Just Ask Us: What's the point of controlled fires?

A fire crew member monitors a prescribed burn on the grounds of the UW Arboretum. The controlled fires are a land management technique used to help protect, restore and maintain natural habitats.

Q: What’s the purpose of “prescribed” fires?

A: With the end of winter comes spring cleaning, the thawing of frozen lakes, the planting of crops and prescribed burns on some state-managed properties by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The controlled fires are a land management technique used to help protect, restore and maintain many of the state’s natural habitats, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Without them, Wisconsin could lose its native grassland, wetland and savanna plant communities.

Planned burns are planned this spring at eight Dane County state-managed areas, according to the DNR.

Controlled burns typically occur in the early spring, before plants begin to turn green, and in the late summer or fall, according to the DNR.

Many of Wisconsin’s native landscapes depend on fire to thrive. Natural wildfires and those once set by the state’s Native Americans have essentially disappeared in the last 150 years.

Fire is essential to growth and regeneration of Wisconsin ecosystems like native prairies, oak openings and pine and oak barrens, according to the DNR.

Without these man-made and controlled burns, invasive and faster-growing species could choke out other native species.

Grassland birds, waterfowl, whitetail deer, insects that rely on a diverse variety of wildflowers and pheasants are among the wildlife that benefit from the fires. In addition, the burns also add nutrients to the soil, according to the DNR.

For more information, go to go.madison.com/controlled-burn.

— Chris Aadland

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Send questions to: justaskus@madison.com; Just Ask Us, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.