by Shana Byrd, Director of Land Conservation at The Dawes Arboretum & Ohio Certified Prescribed Fire Manager

Historically, fire has been a natural feature of the landscape, helping to shape plant communities, promote diversity and favor the unique species that depend on fire to complete their life cycles.  For many years, fire suppression led to excess fuels, which has led to severe wildfire incidents that cause damage. Unlike wildfires, prescribed burns are intentionally conducted under predetermined conditions, with specific parameters and defined resource management objectives.  Certain ecosystems benefit from fire management, including prairie grasslands and fire adapted forests where swift removal of debris leaves the primary plants intact and allows for new growth. Specifically, prescribed burning:

  • Improves habitat for rare and unique species
  • Returns nutrients by removing thatch and fertilizing soil
  • Promotes growth of beneficial wildflowers, trees and other plants
  • Removes undesirable weeds that threaten to choke out native species
  • Reduces pests and fuels that can fuel destructive wildfires

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Wingate

How Prescribed Burns Happen at The Dawes Arboretum

Experienced professionals with knowledge of fire behavior plan many months in advance, writing detailed burn plans that dictate the conditions needed to consume material and dissipate smoke quickly.  These burn plans define safety perimeters called “burn breaks” and take into account temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, as well as nearby residences, roadways and other sensitive areas prior to receiving approval from officials.  These specialists, known as Certified Burn Managers, receive training through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry on fire ecology, burn planning, firing techniques, smoke management and contingency plans, among many other skills needed to determine whether the conditions are right for a burn on a given day.  When applied by knowledgeable land managers under the appropriate weather conditions, prescribed fire is a safe, effective and economical tool for improving natural lands.  The Dawes Arboretum has used prescribed burning in natural ecosystem management for years and will continue relying on this tool in the future to restore diversity and support native plantings.

Prescribed Fire Community of Practitioners

In 2014, The Ohio Prescribed Fire Council was formed as an official group with the goal of “supporting the responsible use of prescribed fire in fire-adapted ecosystems in Ohio.”  Together, these practitioners share training opportunities, learn from research, review fire regulations and help educate the public on the use of prescribed burning. In September of 2017, The Dawes Arboretum Land Conservation staff attended the Annual Meeting of The Ohio Prescribed Fire Council and learned about different approaches to the use of fire management.  We are grateful for our partners within the prescribed fire community and we often assist one another during burns to share experience and lend support.

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Wingate

Restoring Balance to Nature

As we approach the 2018 burn season this spring, we will once again offer our help to others and welcome assistance from local fire departments and nearby partners, to provide extra training in the field.  In addition to helping one another reach our management goals, the use of prescribed fire allows us to continue the historical tradition of fire on the landscape, and helps us play a role in restoring balance to nature.