Fernwood’s Nature Center’s annual prairie burn today

Published 10:15 am Saturday, April 3, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Center will be setting part of their nature preserve on fire today, but it is meant to promote life, not destroy it.
Fernwood has scheduled their annual prairie burn for 8 a.m. this morning, weather permitting.
Fernwood ecologist Heidi Gray will be overseeing the prairie burn and said it is a beneficial process used to promote new growth and preserve a healthy prairie.
The burns also protect prairie grasses from the invasion of trees and bushes that would otherwise take the prairie over.
Gray said prairies are a distinct habitat and preserving them is an important part of maintaining biodiversity.
Fernwood has five acres of prairie and only burns one half of that land every year.
By only burning one half at a time, Gray said they are able to preserve the prairie's insect population.
The burn will be monitored by the fire departments of Buchanan Township, Niles Township, Bertrand Township and Berrien Springs.
The fire departments are asked to be on site in case the fire goes out of control and jumps to a meadow or woods.
Gray said the departments also volunteer their services for the training that the burn provides for them.
Fernwood officials have mowed a fire break around the perimeter of the area that is going to be burned.
The fire will be lit at the west end of the prairie with a back fire started on the east end to keep the fire under control.
Gray said the development of a tall grass prairie at Fernwood was a 15-year project that began in 1976. Fernwood has been using the burns once every year since the prairie finished developing in 1991.
She said new prairie grasses and flowers are always popping up throughout the spring and summer.
For a chance to see the prairie growth up close, Gray said Fernwood naturalists lead prairie walks on a monthly basis during the summer.
Some of the plant species you may find at Fernwood's prairie include grasses such as Big Blue Stem and Indian Grass, which can both grow to nearly 10 feet.
There are also an abundance of prairie flowers including sunflowers, coneflowers, Prairie Dock and Blazing Stars.
You can also find insects like butterflies, bees and praying mantis and animals such as field mice, groundhogs and a number of different birds.
The public is encouraged to come out and view the prairie burn.
Gray said rain or high winds could cause the burn to be rescheduled.