CAMBRIDGE — Jenna Quinn remembers seeing the tallgrass prairie ecosystem at rare’s property on Blair Road after its first prescribed burn in 2015. The field looked burnt and dead. She describes it as a moonscape.
Then, like a miracle only a few weeks later, the plants were growing again.
“It’s shocking how quickly it rebounds,” says Quinn, a program scientist with rare Charitable Research Reserve.
Soon, smoke will rise again at the tallgrass prairie site in Cambridge for the ecosystem’s second prescribed burn.
The burn will be conducted by Lands and Forest Consulting, a forestry management company.
The area to be burned is approximately 18 hectares and conducting the burn will take anywhere between 20 minutes and two hours, says Quinn.
The team at rare has been preparing for the event for over six months, says Quinn. In the fall burn breaks 1.5 meters wide were established. These are fire breaks where mineral soil is exposed and vegetation removed to stop the fire from advancing.
Now, as spring gets underway, temperature and humidity readings are taken every day, says Quinn. The team is waiting for specific conditions to ensure it’s safe to burn. This includes moisture, direction and speed of wind, temperature and weather forecast.
The burn is scheduled to take place tomorrow, around 2:00pm, says Tamanna Kohi, a spokesperson for rare.
Rare’s communications team has already co-ordinated with the fire department, says Quinn.
Burning is a traditional way to manage a tallgrass prairie ecosystem, and necessary to get rid of invasive plants.
Species that are characteristic of tallgrass prairie ecosystems have deep, long root systems. The native plants that do belong have root systems that can be upwards of 25 cm deep, says Quinn.
A prescribed burn gets rid of everything that is not adapted to survive the burn and allows sunlight and water to get down to the soil, she says.
The tallgrass prairie ecosystem was planted in 2010 as part of the research conducted by Andrew MacDougall, a biologist with the University of Guelph.
The first noticeable change was in the insect community. Butterfly species at the site doubled within two to three years, says Quinn.
Quinn says a future goal for this ecosystem is to transition it from tallgrass prairie to oak savannah, which means planting oak trees with the tallgrass prairie.
Tallgrass prairie is one of the rarest native ecosystems in North America. Only one per cent of original tallgrass remains across Canada, says Quinn.
Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email email@example.com
Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record