FAYETTE, IA (March 19, 2009) -- Upper Iowa University Ecology students conducted a successful controlled burn on a three-acre field of native prairie located three miles northwest of Hawkeye on Wednesday, March 18.
Under the supervision of UIU science professors Dr. Rick Klann and Dr. Aaron Haines, 27 students (two of whom are local volunteer firefighters) participated in the class project. The course is part of the Conservation Management & Environmental Science degree program at Upper Iowa. Emergency contact numbers were also readily available just in case something went wrong.
"Whenever a native prairie is well established--three years or more--one method that should be used for renovation and weed control is burning," explained Haines. "Many prairie plants will react favorably to periodic burns as a means of stratification (placement of seeds to promote germination)." Haines added that due to the quickness of this burn, which was less than one hour, the amount of smoke sent into the atmosphere was relatively minimal.
According to Haines, in order to conduct a relatively safe and successful burn, environmental conditions have to be just right. Burns should take place before spring green-up (growth of new vegetation), thus the months of February and March are good months for burning, and the vegetation should be relatively dry to fuel a burn. In addition, there should be a moderate breeze to help push the fire along. However, this should be a very light wind, as gusty conditions can cause a fire to get of control and become very dangerous. Controlled burns can also become risky because good conditions can turn bad (change in wind strength or change in wind direction) while in the middle of a burn.
This particular piece of prairie land was donated by the Pleggenkuhle family to Upper Iowa University approximately 30 years ago; several members of the family are Upper Iowa alumni. The land, which has never been plowed, has also been used by numerous students for research projects on surveying and enhancing the prairie.
Dr. Aaron Haines is the Assistant Professor-Vertebrate Biology at Upper Iowa and also the Associate Editor of Conservation -The Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science.
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