Prairie Fire

Firefighters also set fires…

Last week, firefighting teams from the USFS and USFWS set a controlled burn at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. Fall and spring are optimum times for grass fires, with the fuel source dried out and ready to burn hot and fast. Fires are an important element in the health of grasslands, and this fire is part of a long-term grassland recovery project. Crested wheat grass, an Asian import from the Dust Bowl era, crowds out native grasses and turns prairie into a monoculture. Wildlife receive very little benefit from crested wheat, only eating green shoots in spring. The good news is that crested wheat emerges before native grass and will be chemically treated next spring before big bluestem and blue grama grasses start growing. Restoring a shortgrass prairie that has been “turned over” is a lengthy process that takes decades and is aided by the presence of large grazing ungulates, like bison.

2 thoughts on “Prairie Fire

  1. Although left over from the Dust Bowl, CWG is still very popular and promoted as a pasture and hay crop throughout the west and has proliferated as one of the cornerstones of the CRP program. Ironically, it is still widely used to revegetate disturbed areas in landscape restoration/reclamation projects. But then again, you can still purchase Russian knapweed seeds for your garden (“hardy, easily established, tolerant of all soil types, pretty flowers like bachelor’s buttons…”).

    1. Thanks for the insight (incite) Chris. Damn, I had no idea that we’re still using Crested Wheat – I guess it’s still cheap and you can’t get rid of it (without a 50 year recovery plan). How remarkable that while some call invasive species the number one threat in the West, we can still plant and propagate the the nastiest specimens out there!

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