Burning is a habitat management strategy, commonly used by the Fish & Wildlife Service with a variety of goals in mind. Some places use fire to reduce fuel loads, thus lowering wildfire risks. Fire is also used to manage for native plant species that have evolved with periodic fires. For example, periodic low intensity fires maintain the open canopies of oak savannas. Historical records also show that native american tribes actively managed the landscape, often employing fire as their management tool.
At the refuge complex, we use prescribed burning to manage our grassland habitats by knocking back tree encroachment. Although deciduous forest was the main land cover in southern Indiana prior to colonization, there were pockets of prairie and grassland habitat. These openings likely occurred in response to some sort of frequent disturbance. However, due to development and fire suppression, almost all of the land cover in southern Indiana is either agricultural or forested. Therefore, species that historically depended on grassland habitat in the area are in decline. Such species, like the crawfish frog, henslow’s sparrow, and the monarch butterfly, utilize the extensive grasslands found at both Big Oaks and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuges!
This spring season I was able to help with a couple prescribed fires at the Big Oaks refuge. The fire staff of the complex was extremely welcoming and helpful in my training process, and they guided me through my first fires. I learned a lot in a short period of time, and I became really interested in the use of fire as a management tool in the eastern US. The prescribed fire season here is over, but I’m looking forward to helping out again this upcoming fall!
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: Civilian Climate Corps Program (CCC)
Location: Muscatatuck NWR