Prescribed Fire Rejuvenates Pollinator Plots and Private Land Habitat (video)

The U.S. Geological Survey at Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (NPWRC) has a robust history of studying pollinators and pollinator habitat demonstration plots to illustrate the multiple benefits these lands provide. Like our native prairies, pollinator habitat requires active management to thrive – without proper management, the ecological and economic value of the habitat decreases. Historically, fire was part of the natural cycle in the prairies and played a vital role in maintaining healthy landscapes. While prescribed fire isn’t always recognized as a management tool, it offers tremendous benefits for prairies, pollinators, and people.

Independently of NPWRC, conservation partners across North Dakota have joined forces to promote prescribed fire on private lands through the creation of the North Dakota Prescribed Fire Cooperative. Three members of the cooperative – The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Great Plains, and Pheasants Forever – are hosting workshops to teach landowners how to safely use fire on their property. Needing a venue for a demonstration event, this group of partners approached NPWRC about burning the pollinator research plots and hosted a full-day workshop on May 23rd. The event started in the classroom, where attendees learned about fire behavior, North Dakota fire laws, the economic value of prescribed fire, and burn plan development. After that, attendees had the opportunity to get hands-on experience implementing a prescribed fire on one of the pollinator plots.

Long term, the plan is to take a tiered approach to gradually familiarize landowners with fire as a management tool. A single-day workshop is just one step, and the partnership will offer ongoing opportunities to assist landowners in developing burn plans and performing prescribed fire operations on their property. As landowners become more comfortable, they can independently organize their own prescribed fire events. Importantly, the workshop emphasized that expensive, specialized equipment isn’t needed to implement prescribed fire – with a UTV, water tank, and hand tools, landowners can safely carry out prescribed burns at low cost. The hope is that this effort will generate a snowball effect as participating landowners share their knowledge and experiences with their neighbors.

This story exemplifies the value of collaborating to achieve shared goals. While NPWRC provided the physical space for the prescribed fire workshop, they relied on The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Great Plains, and Pheasants Forever to organize the workshop and share their expertise with attendees. Prescribed fire, when conducted safely, is a highly effective management tool. It increases productivity and nutritional quality of grass for livestock, reducing the need for supplemental feeding and vitamin supplements. It also fosters species diversity and enhances native plant vegetation, providing abundant habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. These, and many other benefits, underscore the ecological and economic value of incorporating controlled fire into the landscape.

Visit Audubon Great Plains’ website to learn more about prescribed fire.

Photos courtesy of Clint Otto

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