By Rick Palsgrove
Winter’s cold is coming, but some Metro Parks are in for a hot time.
Prairie areas in a few of the area Metro Parks will undergo what is described as a “prescribed burn,” where controlled fires are set to “inhibit invasive species and boost new growth of native plants in prairies, grasslands, and oak woods,” according to Metro Parks Assistant Resource Manager Carrie Morrow.
Metro Parks Public Information Manager Peg Hanley said two such burns recently took place at Pickerington Ponds and Battelle Darby Creek. She said Prairie Oaks had a prescribed burn earlier this year, but, locally, Three Creeks, Slate Run, and Walnut Woods will not have a prairie burn this year.
“We burn in the spring and fall in the dormant seasons – spring before plants and grasses have grown and fall after the frost has killed the plants above ground,” said Hanley. “Prairies recover quickly. After an early spring burn, it will green up almost immediately. Nature is resilient.”
Hanley said the burns are conducted by members of the burn team, which is made up of park technicians and staff from the resource management team.
According to information provided by Metro Parks, the prescribed burns:
•Maintain the health of existing natural areas, restore nutrients, habitat restoration, control invasive plants and shrubs, and encourage new growth of native vegetation.
•Are better than mowing because they are a natural management tool used throughout history and are a force much like wind or water that imitates nature. Native Americans and pioneers in the past set controlled prairie fires to help the land.
Also, prairie habitats developed over centuries where natural fires played a role in maintaining areas for a diversity of species.
In an online blog written for Metro Parks, Morrow stated the prescribed burns are performed on a rotating basis in selected parks every two to five years. The burned areas promote new growth and germinating seeds, as well as eliminate young trees, shrubs, and other invasive plant species. The fires allow prairie wildflowers and grasses to rejuvenate and spread.
When asked how the prescribed prairie burns affect the wildlife in the burn areas, Hanley said, “To protect wildlife, our staff conducts a walk through of the site before burning which causes some animals to exit the area. We begin slow and light the main head fire last. Birds simply fly off. Deer and other mammals can scurry and bound away quickly and mice and voles can burrow in the ground.”
For information on Metro Parks, visit metroparks.net.