July 2, 2019
A recent Nelson Institute study led by The Nature Conservancy, showed that proper land management practices play a significant role in decreasing carbon emissions. In particular, the retention of grasslands, wetlands, and forests, were shown to help fight climate change. While there are many aspects of land management that can help, controlled burns have been shown to improve the viability of these important natural grasslands and savannas, particularly those that contain native oak trees. As such, the Tallgrass Prairie & Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium (TPOS) will be hosting workshops throughout the Midwest this summer to educate land managers on the benefits of controlled burns.
Led by Nelson Institute Associate Dean and principal investigator, Paul Zedler and Nelson Institute graduate and project coordinator, Craig Maier, TPOS is an organization that brings together fire practitioners, scientists, outreach and extension specialists, volunteers, educators and enthusiasts from eastern Nebraska to western Ohio to share best practices and educate others on land management practices. A part of the national, Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP), which funds scientific research on wildland fires, TPOS hosts these educational workshops each summer as well as webinars throughout the year.
“Each workshop is important because it helps us to build bridges between ecologists, farmers, land management professionals and others,” said Maier. “These individuals often don’t use the same vocabulary when talking about land management, so these workshops provide a networking opportunity that allow us to build a common language while showing how fire can be a helpful land management tool.”
While controlled burns are important for prairies and grasslands, Maier said one of the high conservation priorities in the Midwest is to conserve and protect the native oak trees. These trees benefit from controlled burns as they help to regulate the invasive plants that out compete native oak. The frequent controlled burns also create conditions that allow other native species to thrive as oaks are host to hundreds of native species. For example, many butterfly and moth species lay their eggs only on oaks, and these feed many species of birds that migrate through in the spring or raise their young here. Common species such as white-tailed deer and eastern wild turkey also use acorns from white oak and bur oak as an important part of their diet.
“Oak is a keystone species and the lynch pin in biodiversity,” said TPOS partner and The Nature Conservancy’s Baraboo Hills Project Coordinator, Ann Calhoun. “Not only do oaks provide food for insects that birds feed on, but their leaf structure casts dappled shade which allows a diverse mix of plants to grow under their canopy compared to many other tree species.
For Calhoun, the conservation of native oak is a key part of The Baraboo Hills project, which includes more than 9,000 acres of land containing a number of native oak trees. To maintain the integrity of these trees and their surrounding ecosystem, Calhoun and The Nature Conservancy’s fire team have completedcontrolled burns over 500 acres in 2017 and 2019. She also worked with TPOS in 2018 to plan a workshop titled, Using Fire as a Tool to Manage Oak Ecosystem which was held in Iowa County, Wisconsin.
“Ann is an example of a land manager who is dealing with issues where the right thing to do is not common knowledge yet, but she and The Nature Conservancy are willing to learn and spread the word about the importance of controlled burns” said Maier. “I’ve been working on oak management issues since 2014 and the research shows that fire is a big part of that management, but unfortunately, the research is not often applied to the management of oak ecosystems. We are trying to change that by educating land managers about the research.”
This summer, the workshops will be held in Southwest Iowa and Indiana with more planned in the coming weeks. To register for an upcoming workshop or to learn more about TPOS visit: http://www.tposfirescience.org/field-trips/
Photo courtesy of Craig Maier