Prescribed fire at Willisbrook Preserve

April 12, 2019

By Daniel Barringer.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

As we wrap up our 25th year of using prescribed fire (March, 1994, was our first, a meadow at Binky Lee Preserve) it’s worth thinking about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Willisbrook Preserve, where we burned yesterday, is a good example.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

We’ve been burning these Serpentine barrens long enough that much of the heavy fuels have been consumed, so we don’t see the massive flames we once did. More sunlight penetrates to the grasslands under an open canopy, supporting the rare species that grow only on Serpentine soils.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

In the absence of prescribed fire, organic matter builds up and common species can outcompete the rare ones. With our current fire management we’re gradually trending away from restoration of the barrens and toward maintenance. It is still challenging work—as you can see from the photos we are burning areas of the barrens immediately adjacent to ones that are not scheduled to be burned this year. So it is a good thing that we have among the best trained and experienced crew we’ve ever had.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

A final note is that the transition from portable ponds and hose lays—once the common method of managing prescribed fires in this landscape—to the use of portable pumps mounted on UTV’s, has transformed how we get this work done. We save hours setting up pumps and hoses and putting them away afterward. The UTV’s can deliver the water we need where we need it and speed up the necessary logistics.