If you were driving north on highway 16 from south La Crosse on the afternoon of November 7th and were able to glance up at the bluffs on the right as you are approaching the Viterbo athletic fields on the left and where the power lines cross the road, you may have caught a glimpse of smoke rising from the bluffs. Since then, a blackened area facing south is seen. This is Mathy Bluff Prairie. On Tuesday the 7th, a team took advantage of ripe conditions to burn the prairie. What are "ripe conditions"? Some of the factors include the wind speed, relative humidity, and the moisture content of the fuel. But the main ingredient is the availability of a crew, especially a "burn boss". Well, the cards fell into place for the burn with a fantastic crew and with the relative humidity just dipping down into the acceptable range, and it was a go! The burn was quite successful with the fire carrying through most areas to achieve our goals.
What were the goals? The bluff prairies are included in what are called "fire dependent communities" because over thousands of years they have adapted to and need fire to thrive. Some of our goals for this particular burn were to remove thatch exposing the soil for new prairie plants to grow, to help maintain the diversity of plants, including many of the flowering plants that are stimulated by fire and are important for the many insects that depend on them, and to help control woody plants from establishing on the prairie. Indeed, the prairie seems to burst forth in splendor the year after a fire with many of the native plants flowering and producing an abundance of seed.
Many thanks to those participating on the burn!
As on all of these prairies being restored, please resist the urge to walk on them because too much trampling through the year can cause significant damage to the soil structure and to the plants leading to serious erosion. Just admire them from afar and know that they are to home to many unique plants and animals!