It takes more than just planting prairie in order for it to flourish. The refuge staff apply a variety of habitat management tools including prescribed fire to maintain and enhance reconstructed prairie. Tallgrass prairie is a fire-dependent ecosystem, meaning fire is necessary to maintain the structure of the plant community.
Dense grasses provide ideal fuel for fire. Historically, fire shaped and maintained the prairie ecosystem. Native Americans intentionally set fires each year to attract grazing animals such as bison, elk, and deer, to reduce the danger of wildfire, to ease travel, and to increase visibility and safety. Prairie fires started by lightning were also a frequent occurrence.
Native prairie grasses and wildflowers have adaptations or features that allow them to survive fire. Without the benefit of prescribed burning, fire-intolerant trees and shrubs invade the prairie. This can eventually lead to the establishment of trees and shrubs, which shade out prairie plants and further inhibit fire.
In order to replicate the beneficial effects of wildfires, trained staff conduct prescribed fires every year, rotating the burn sites throughout the refuge. The weather station, to the left of the maintenance buildings, provides critical information for planning prescribed fires.
In addition to fire, mowing and herbicide spraying are tools used to remove non-native invasive plants. A plant or animal is considered an invasive species when it is introduced to an area outside of its normal range and causes environmental and/or economic harm.
At the next stop, you can observe and compare a reconstructed prairie and an agricultural field. You will also learn how and why prairie benefits people.