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Fire Ecology in Cascadia

 
pollinator
Posts: 189
Location: Hendersonville, NC
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Does anyone have experience with intentional fire in the NW? I have a huge old pasture that I have a relationship with (I don't care to call it "stewardship" or "management") and I'd like to employ fire before it becomes more of a weedy mess (hawthorns, tansy, canary reed, etc.) than it already is. I'd love to establish camas, delphinium, yampa, lupine, lomatium, osha, balsam, garry oaks...all the classic Cascadian prairie species. I've just started scratching the surface of fire ecology as a land practice and need some guidance. Anyone else around here turn an old field into an amazing diverse prairie/oak forest?

Problems with fire I can anticipate: beyond the legality (there's a burn ban june 15th - oct 15th usually) I could use some tips on techniques to avoid disasters. From the short conversations I've had with fire ecologists, who of course claim only they can do intentional burns, you need at least "15 perfessionals" whatever that means. I'd like to stay in the present and accept I can [I meant to say CAN'T, hence the "but"] create a huge fire and assume everything will be OK, but I'd like to employ fire without paying a bunch of "professionals" too.

I have started reading Fire Ecology of Pacific NW Forest by James Agee. It's fascinating and I highly recommend it to anyone in Cascadia.



 
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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get to know your local weather patterns extremely well.

certainly no expert here, but I would guess that cutting or grazing the land before it was burned would decrease the intensity of the fire and reduce the likelihood of things going dreadfully wrong.
 
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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You may want to try to tease apart, by research or observation, the actual benefits of fire per se versus other techniques that might accomplish your goals nearly as well without as much danger, legality, bureaucracy, etc. Grazing and mowing come first to mind. Is your goal to control woody brush, remove carbon mulch, or perhaps to facilitate germination of seeds dependent on heat? I find that in our small plot of oak woodland here in N. CA., mowing and/or scything the grass and weeds once or twice in the spring, followed by gathering together the resulting mulch (which I use through the rest of the year for chicken bedding, mulch, compost, etc.) seems to be encouraging the native bulbs (brodiaea, calochortus), clovers and other wildflowers, and keeping the star-thistle controlled....
 
Dennis Lanigan
pollinator
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Location: Hendersonville, NC
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My experience with the results of prescribed burns has been first hand. There is are extensive burns in the few prairies down here (olympia area) that are left. At the Glacial Heritage Reserve they have a prairie appreciation day where they show the results of burns. On one side they show weeding/scything, roundup, etc. and there's not much going on. On the burn side the wildflowers were 10x as prolific! At another prairie (Scatter Creek) last summer I saw a solid sea of purple Delphiniums and learned later that area was burned as well.

Here's a summary of the 2012 south sound burn program: http://www.southsoundprairies.org/home/2013/2/5/summary-of-2012-south-puget-sound-ecological-fire-program.html

I just found a lot of great information for anyone who stumbles upon this. Here's a bunch of documents on prairies of Cascadia from the Cascadia Prairie Oak Partnership: http://cascadiaprairieoak.org/documents.html

Here's a quote from this really interesting document: http://cascadiaprairieoak.org/documents/PrairieFiresandEarthMounds-LindaStorm.pdf

"The prairies and their oak woodland edges provided diverse and abundant food, fiber and medicinal resources. Of the 157 inventoried prairie plant species, 35% are edible and over 85% have some documented ethnobotanical use (Gunther 1945; Leopold and Boyd 1999; Moerman 1998; Norton  1979a&b; Norton et al.1984; Turner 1997, 1998; Turner and Kuhnlein 1983)."

Just so people know, I'm definitely not going to burn the entire field just to satisfy my curiosity. Just wondered if anyone had done it and had experience they could share about whether it is worth it as alternative to grazing/scything, as clearly fire has worked for people (in certain instances) in this bioregion.

 
steward
Posts: 6355
Location: Carnation, WA (Western Washington State / Cascadia / Pacific NW)
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Dennis, it looks like you found a plethora of resources. Here's one more: the Kah Tai Prairie in Port Townsend which Paul and I visited with Forest Shomer. (For more info, listen to Paul's native plants podcast with Forest.)

To this end the prairie has been mowed regularly in the fall and selectively burned in 2000 and in 2008 with help from the Nature Conservancy, the City of Port Townsend, and the Port Townsend Fire Department. The following growing season after burning has yielded the immediate reward of a spectacular bloom.



I think working with native plant groups and the local fire department are brilliant ideas for a project like this.
 
pollinator
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Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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I do a lot of volunteer work at a wildlife refuge near my home (Steigerwald Lake NWR). We have a lot of habitat restoration projects which are similar to what you are wanting to do. We have never used prescribed fire but I wish we would.

This past October we had a wildfire which burned 140 acres of mostly reed canarygrass + blackberries. The RCG grew back within a couple of weeks (not too surprising). So I don't think fire would slow down RCG at all.

I agree that you should work with your local "fire people". They may be looking for someplace to practice?

I am hoping to do some experiments on the refuge to get rid of RCG by shading from plants such as alder. Assuming it works, we would girdle the alders a year or so before we plant the native shrubs & flowers.

Send me a PM if you want to know what we have tried and what has worked & not worked.
 
Dennis Lanigan
pollinator
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Location: Hendersonville, NC
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In regards to planting alders: I could post pictures of canary grass growing right up to stands of alder if you'd like. I'm not saying you shouldn't try it but that's my experience. I would plant Garry Oaks because they are allelopathic (and fire resistant).

Maybe planting seeds/bulbs, establishing live plants, and then burning is a solution? Or even planting after?

From http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/problem-plants-and-animals/invasive-plants/reed-canary-grass-control

This site advises against weeding, tilling, cutting, grazing, herbicides for RCG control. It does say this works:

"Introduction of competitive species: probably few native species can compete with reed canary grass in wetlands if burning is not used also. It reportedly will even crowd out cattails. Prescribed burning allows native species that are present or seeded-in to compete successfully."
 
pollinator
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Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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Have you looked for "How-To" info and reports on past burns, probably from or related to forestry departments, BLM, etc? I mean the actual physical methods and work, not the ecological perspective. Public agencies often publish minutes, findings, proposals et al relating to their projects. You may need to read between the lines a little, but historical info may have data on the usual number of people and pieces of equipment on the ground, time needed, strategy and problems. When somebody else has done it before if you can get their info that's a real jump start.

I recall several news-making reports in the past 10 years where controlled burns got out of hand - much to the embarrassment of officials in charge. Government operations are not known for their grace, elegance and common sense but they do commit a lot of resources and they still manage to get into trouble. So the "15 professionals" might not be wholly out of line in a situation where there could potentially be a disaster.



Rufus

 
Dave Miller
pollinator
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Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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I don't think any seeds could survive against RCG. You need fairly big plants which can compete with RCG for water and light.

In one of our main planting sites, the area was 1) mowed 2) sprayed 3) sprayed again 4) planted 5) hand watered and mowed between the plants for 3 summers. The RCG was back within a year. The main plants which have survived are 1) big plants 2) ninebark 3) nootka rose. Some of the other species survived, but not many.

There are several patches of stinging nettle in the RCG which seem to be putting up a good fight and actually winning. I am monitoring those sites. Nettle has its own pluses and minuses (more pluses IMHO) but at least it is native.

We have tried mulching with wood chips around individual planted plants, that helped quite a bit.

You need to take into account the animals in the area too. e.g. voles, rabbits, deer. They will eat your plants.

I will have some time next week, I can give more details then.

Dennis Lanigan wrote:In regards to planting alders: I could post pictures of canary grass growing right up to stands of alder if you'd like. I'm not saying you shouldn't try it but that's my experience. I would plant Garry Oaks because they are allelopathic (and fire resistant).

Maybe planting seeds/bulbs, establishing live plants, and then burning is a solution? Or even planting after?

From http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/problem-plants-and-animals/invasive-plants/reed-canary-grass-control

This site advises against weeding, tilling, cutting, grazing, herbicides for RCG control. It does say this works:

"Introduction of competitive species: probably few native species can compete with reed canary grass in wetlands if burning is not used also. It reportedly will even crowd out cattails. Prescribed burning allows native species that are present or seeded-in to compete successfully."

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