Healthier prairie ecology because of controlled burns

Controlled burn

DNR Firefighter torches dry grasses at Mima Mounds NAP. Invasive Scott’s broom in background has been damaged and will be pulled to help restore native prairie. Photo: DNR

Occasionally, when grasses are dry and winds are right, DNR and our conservation partners, such as The Nature Conservancy of Washington, purposefully burn part of one of the prairies that are part of the state’s system of natural area preserves (NAP).

Controlled burns at both Mima Mounds and Rocky Prairie NAPs help promote the growth of native prairie plants and reduce thatch and shrubs in this rare grassland ecosystem. These planned burns are part of a regional effort to restore native prairies and oak woodlands in western Washington and to enhance habitat for rare plant and wildlife species. The burns move quickly through the grasses and shrubs, leaving roots and bulbs unharmed. DNR also uses the burns as an opportunity to learn more about restoring and maintaining native prairie habitat.

Historically wildfire was part of this ecosystem; it has played an important role in prairies and oak woodlands in the Puget Sound lowlands for centuries Native Americans burned the prairies to keep them from being shaded and closed in by forests and to stimulate growth of some native food plants. 

Careful burning only in the right conditions

Controlled burns are a safe and cost-effective way to reintroduce natural disturbance to fire-adapted ecosystems. They are conducted when weather conditions allow for safe burning and minimal impact of smoke on nearby residents.

Firefighters use fire engines and other fire suppression techniques to prevent the fire from spreading beyond the control lines and assist in ‘mop-up’ efforts.  

Natural areas protect Washington’s natural diversity

Mima Mounds and Rocky Prairie NAPs are two of the natural areas that DNR manages statewide. Natural resources conservation areas and natural area preserves—totaling about 144,000 acres—protect native ecosystems and the plant and animal species that depend on them. Many also have access for education, research and low impact public use.

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