Earth, Wind and Fire: INHF's spring burn season

By Katy Heggen on May 30, 2017 in Blog

Prescribed fire

Photo: Matt Dollison

Spring burn season in Iowa is all about three things: earth, wind and fire. When the three elements align under the right conditions, they create a display (with some help from INHF staff) that is as impressive as it is integral to Iowa’s natural landscape.

Wildfires were once an essential part of Iowa’s seasonal refresh, renewing native plants, removing invasive species and reinvigorating soils. Now, prescribed fire is one of the best land stewardship methods for maintaining species diversity in prairie and woodlands.

A prescribed burn is the intentional ignition of grass, shrub or woodland plants (or “fuels”). Prescribed burns are carried out in accordance with a fire plan, developed by conservation organizations to identify areas most in need of burning. Defined lines are drawn for the fire, which are managed by the prescribed burn crew to ensure the fire doesn’t spread to undesired locations. To safely conduct a prescribed burn, staff must consider and continually monitor a variety of factors including wind speed, wind direction and humidity. Other things taken into account include nearby reliable water sources, adjacent land, wildlife, building locations and crew members conducting the burn.

“This year’s spring prescribed fire season — which came to a close in May — proved to be successful on many levels,” said INHF Land Stewardship Director Ryan Schmidt. “INHF was able to partner with several organizations and volunteers to achieve our goals.”

In 2017, INHF and its partners:

  • Burned 1,348 acres
  • Performed prescribed burns at 12 properties with 24 individual burn units
  • Conducted controlled burns in 10 counties
  • Logged 19 burn days
  • Involved nine INHF staff, eight Conservation Corps of Iowa members and eight volunteers

Perhaps the highlight of this spring’s burn season was the Iowa Cooperative Burn Week. This is INHF’s second year participating in the annual event held each spring in the Loess Hills.

Organized and led by the Loess Hills Fire Partners, the event brings together conservation partners from across the state to connect, learn, share knowledge and accomplish large-scale burns.

INHF burn complex

The INHF burn complex.

Over the course of the week, partners burned nearly 3,500 acres, including a nearly 1,000-acre burn on an INHF complex in Monona County. This burn was planned and led by INHF stewardship and DNR staff. Originally scheduled for a day during the week that was rained out, nearly fifty people stayed after the official end of the event to help complete the large-scale burn.

“It was amazing to have that kind of support from our partners,” said INHF Land Stewardship Associate Melanie Louis. “We’ve built some great relationships. There are so many people behind us encouraging us to keep pushing ourselves, to keep doing more. It was the perfect end to a great week.”

Learn more about the restorative powers of prescribed fire.