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Controlled fire at WMU to promote ecological regrowth

Posted at 7:01 PM, Apr 22, 2019

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Acres of prairie land at Asylum Lake Preserve on Drake Road was set on fire Monday morning.

Stephan Keto, with Western Michigan University, said it was done on purpose to stimulate regrowth.

“Prairies are ecosystems that are fire-dependent systems,” said Keto, the Natural Areas and Preserves Manager with WMU. “These ecosystems evolved with fire as a management regime. So fire is necessary in maintaining the diversity, reducing invasives, [and] encouraging species to reinvigorate by germination.”

Keto said the university obtained a burn permit from the Kalamazoo fire marshal to perform the prescribed burn. They also hired two professional groups to maintain it.

“This is what they do,” Keto said. “They are monitoring hundreds of different parameters before, during and after this fire to ensure safety, smoke management, fire management, prevent escape of this fire and protect our community.”

Keto said using fire is the most cost-effective way to get the results they’re looking for. However, they have considered using animals as another method to maintaining the prairie.

“If we could put bison out or an ungulate out, we could also graze a prairie,” he said. “We’ve used goats on campus to reduce invasive species.”

That might be an option in the future, he said. However, the university has burned the prairie at least four times in the last 16 years. The plan is to do it on yearly.

"This is how prairies evolve," he said. "Prairies are a grassland system that evolved with fire across the continent. So while we can mow, and we can do selective spraying, fire is the most efficient, most effective and ecologically does the to work that we’re trying to do."