You've probably noticed smoke in the air recently. The season for burning natural areas in McHenry County arrived early this year!
Typically the temperature is still too low and the ground is too wet for land managers to burn wetland and grassland areas in the first part of March.
The recent mild temperatures, moderate humidity (not too high or too low) and light winds make conditions ideal for an ecoloogical burn.
Fire is a low-cost way to take care of natural lands like prairies, oak woods and wetlands. The process of burning off prior years' dead vegetation helps open areas up so that new vegetation can grow.
The fire kills off small, woody vegetation like buckthorn sprouts, keeping them from taking hold in sensitive areas. Another benefit of a periodic fire in natural areas is that it releases nutrients from the burnt vegetation and exposes the area so that the seeds of native species receive light and start growing.
Remember that before European-American settlers moved into the area in the 1830s and started farming, the land burned regularly through wildfires and fires set deliberately by native peoples to facilitate hunting. Also keep in mind that the plants native to our area are adapted to periodic fires, while many of the introduced species that compete with the natives do not tolerate fire well.
When land managers burn natural areas, it helps give those native species an advantage and temporarily knocks back the invaders. This benefits us all as the native plants provide needed habitat for butterflies and birds that we value - as well as the insects that many of our favorite birds eat!
While fire may be an efficient and inexpensive way for a landowner to manage his or her property, it is also a potentially dangerous undertaking. Knowing the basics about equipment used, proper weather conditions and correct technique are all important skills to have when burning land.
If you are interested in learning how to burn natural areas safely, TLC is holding a "Learn to Burn" class on Saturday March 31st at the Dunham Township Building on Airport Road in Harvard.
The class runs from 9-3, and cost for TLC members is just $20. Non-members pay $35, which gives them a year or membership too. The fee includes lunch. To register for the class, please fill out and mail in a registration form that you can obtain by clicking here, or by calling 815-337-9502.