April 10, 2013 - When it comes to fire, Smokey the Bear would likely warn of danger, but Springfield Township Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Tucker has a different view.
Plant Wise LLC workers use burners on a controlled burn at Shultz Park in Springfield Township. The fire was to get rid of invasive species in the park. Photo by Mary Keck (click for larger version)
From her perspective, "fire is a fantastic tool, if you used correctly."
On April 2, Tucker oversaw a prescribed burn of six acres in Shultz Park on Davisburg Road. Plant Wise LLC, a native landscaping and ecological restoration company from Ann Arbor completed the burn, which was planned to target invasive species.
"That area had never been burned," Tucker explained. "It had a lot of Autumn Olive that needed to be contained or knocked back."
Autumn Olive, an Asian shrub with silvery green, oval-shaped leaves, is a common sight in Michigan these days, but Tucker isn't pleased about its increasing population. "I'm hoping to see a lot of those bushes wiped out," she said.
Tucker sees Autumn Olive as a threat to biodiversity, and it isn't the only nonnative vegetation she's concerned about. Phragmites, Black Swallow-Wart, and Buckthorn are other plants she hopes to target with prescribed burns, which is why the flames won't only reach Shultz Park. Tucker intends to set about 230 acres ablaze in various places in the Shiawassee Basin Preserve in April.
A controlled burn is also planned to elminate the large stand of tall Phragmites along White Lake Road in Clarkston this Spring.
Tucker said prescribed burns are best at "this time of year because of the temperatures. We wouldn't see very many turtles, snakes, or frogs out yet. That's why we burn so early to be able to avoid them altogether."
In addition to protecting amphibians and reptiles, planning fires for the spring has other advantages. Tucker said, "heat from the fire will germinate seed, regenerate forest floors, and activate nutrients in the soil."
Beneath the ground there are "seeds that have been laying in wait for some kind of catalyst," she explained. "This fire could be it, to basically give a rebirth of that area."
To make sure the fire burns safely, factors such as wind direction and burn breaks are considered. Areas used for burn breaks might already be charred or they could be green space that is less likely to catch flame. In the case of Shultz Park, the Shiawassee river running along its edge was a burn break that contained the fire.
According to Tucker, the flames are kept at about 18 inches in height, which ensures the fire won't get out of control.
While the dry foliage in Shultz Park had never been burned before, Tucker said the Parks and Recreation department "realized what a positive impact fire really can be" in 2005. Since then, prescribed burns of areas around Springfield Township have had a positive results.
For example, fires in the Long Lake Fen complex increased the population of the Powshiek Skipperling, an endangered butterfly that thrives in the spring-fed fen habitat. "It's a really unique community," she noted.
Tucker hopes continued prescribed burning will lead to more success stories. "For us, it's really important that we do what we can to make sure this system is intact for the next generations."
Find out more about prescribed burns in Springfield Township on www.springfield-twp.us.
Clarkston News reporter