medicinal use of prescribed fire on preserves.

March 24, 2023
alt text: Preserve managers gather in preparation for a prescribed burn in mid-March

Photo: Caleb Arrowood.

The day after the spring equinox, a group of preserve managers and other stewardship staff gathered at our Gwynedd Preserve, located in North Wales, PA, to utilize one of the oldest stewardship tools in the book: prescribed fire.  

This was the second day of a planned burn, the first occurring at Crow’s Nest Preserve, in Elverson, PA. Working in seasonal cycles, our staff conduct controlled burns each spring on our nature preserves when the weather conditions allow.  

“These fires are referred to as ‘prescribed burns’ because they act like medicine for areas whose health—including the animals and insects that live in them—is threatened by the aggressive growth of non-native plants,” said Darin Groff, fire management coordinator.

Prescribed burns can only be conducted safely when weather conditions are perfect, including meadow moisture levels, air humidity, and wind strength and direction. Stewardship staff often must mobilize at a moment’s notice to prepare for and undertake a burn. Originally, the burn at Gwynedd was scheduled for the next day but predicted winds pushed the date up. 

Photo: George Wallace. An overhead drone view of a controlled burn patch in March.

“We burned about 15 acres total at Gwynedd,” said Darin. “The process looks pretty dramatic, but it’s the way we keep meadows as meadows. If we didn’t burn these meadows periodically, they’d be filled with invasive species and eventually become forest.”

Photo: Caleb Arrowood

This burn method helps stewardship staff manage warm- and cool-season grasses. Certain ecosystems, such as serpentine barrens, thrive off these prescribed burns. Natural Lands has had a robust fire stewardship program for decades, now with six female staff members including Erin Smith, who attended the Gwynedd burn. Staff go through annual fire safety training, led by Darin Groff.  

“Controlled burn is just one of the tools we use to steward the land,” says Erin. “This was the second day of burning, and we’re planning a few more this season.” 

Photo: Erin Smith

If you’d like to learn more about why we use prescribed fire on our preserves, please read ‘What is a prescribed fire?’  

Join today to care for nature.