Prescribed burns took place in sections of Western Michigan University’s Asylum Lake Preserve Friday, April 2 in order to restore the area's natural life. Tom Sauber, WMU landscape manager, said the burns get rid of invasive plants to allow for native ones to flourish.
“Nature does it naturally, but we put them (fires) out, because typically like in California, you don’t want the fire to burn people’s houses down,” Sauber said. “But, it’s a really good thing.”
Paul MacNellis, a retired WMU director of landscape, described Asylum Lake Preserve as a “long grass prairie.” The native long grass is deeply rooted, going down into the ground anywhere between 8 to 20 ft. The burns will get rid of the invasive species as they are shallow rooted.
“So that’s what we’re doing, trying to shake the blanket,” MacNellis said. “Get all the dust off and make it look nice.”
Additionally, the prescribed burns will help prevent wildfires from happening in the future in the prairie, said Firefighter Dakota Szczepanski. He said the prescribed burns help get rid of fuel loads and other things that could cause a wildfire to spread.
“It also helps the prairie become more fire resistant,” Szczepanski said. “So from a firefighting aspect, if we get someone who flicks a cigarette out, it’s more likely to not catch.”
Wind was an important factor to the prescribed burns as well. The conditions during the day were favorable, Sauber said.
“Low winds and coming from a certain direction,” Sauber said. “You don’t want no wind because if there’s no wind, the smoke just sticks around and lingers. You want conditions where the upper level winds are actually blowing also.”
PlantWise LLC, an ecological restoration company, was the hired contractor for the burns. Volunteers were also available to help with “fire breaks,” which are barriers that slow the progress of a bushfire.
“We’re pretty much prepared, we got all the firebreaks all done, we’ve had them done for weeks,” MacNellis said.
WMU Junior Kelly Giles was one of the volunteers at the prescribed burns. Giles studies pre-veterinary and she said the burn will give her experience for her future career in wildlife.
“I want to work as a wildlife veterinarian, so working out in the field that I’m going to be working in is really cool,” Giles said.
Precautions were taken before the prescribed burns took place. All trails adjacent to the burns were closed with signages for a few hours after they were complete. The Drake Road parking lot was also closed to prevent people from traveling into the burn areas.
Prescribed burns are scheduled every year in the spring. Visitors should expect the native plants to begin to show within a few weeks after the burn.
For more information about the Asylum Lake Preserve, visit its website.