The Traditional Ecological Knowledge Behind Controlled Burns

Yesterday I posted a New York Times article on Welty’s facebook page called: “Alarmed by Scope of Wildfires, Officials Turn to Native Americans for Help.” Give it a read–it’s about how policymakers and Forest Service officials in the Pacific Northwest are reaching out to Native communities to learn about indigenous controlled-burn techniques that could be adopted to reduce the damage of wildfires. I was struck by how closely the topic relates to the workshop Aaron and I did earlier this summer on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. 

This article and that workshop reiterate how adopting indigenous land management practices, developed by closely watching natural systems for generations, offers sustainable methods to mitigate climate change.

(A prescribed burn in the upper park at Big Hill in 2008)

[pullquote class=”right”]Adopting indigenous land management practices[/pullquote]Controlled burns are a strategy also used to promote healthy prairie and oak savannas, and are another maintenance technique learned from Native populations. The Oak Savanna Welty is cultivating at Big Hill is considered a “fire-dependent ecosystem.” Oak trees are resistant to fire, because they have deep roots, thick bark, and the natural adaption to resprout after a burn. Fire removes oak leaves and litter, which opens up the soil for seeds and allows plants to grow faster while returning minerals and nutrients to the soil.  It also controls harmful insects and diseases and removes annual invasives so they can’t set seed for the next growing season.

[pullquote class=”left”]…offers sustainable methods to mitigate climate change.[/pullquote]We hope to help the City of Beloit and the Rock County Conservationists with a prescribed burn in November on the property east of Big Hill Center between the parking lot and the bike path.  This burn will be followed by an overseeding with prairie wildflower seeds that have been collected from native prairie remnants and planted prairies in Rock county. Keep an eye on the Welty calendar for dates and sign-up information to volunteer with the RCC (the tentative date is Dec. 5, 10am).

In the meantime, come out to the park for a hike and to get a sense of “before” in the prairie while the weather is still so nice!

(Late September milkweed at Big Hill)

Brenda Plakans
Executive Director, WEC