The South Puget Sound Prairies

Igniting Restoration

Fire is the lynchpin of prairie restoration on the South Sound. Following the Chehalis, The Nature Conservancy and the Washington Department of Natural Resources have begun to re-introduce fire to the prairies, regularly burning units of up to 100 acres with controlled, low-intensity fires, called ecological or prescribed burns. Mimicking centuries of regular burning, prescribed burns enrich the soil, and keep the landscape open and fertile for sun-loving prairie plants.

“The species that are present here have adapted to frequent fires,” said Adrian Frank, the fire manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “By doing a prescribed burn we are trying to restore one of the processes under which various components of the South Puget Sound prairie ecosystem evolved.”

Without fire, invasive species crowd out prairie plants; and lichen, moss and grasses build up, increasing the chance of wildfire and keeping native seeds from germinating. As a firefighter at one late-summer burn said, “Fire is just the most effective way to get the native plants to re-start and restore the prairies back to their natural state.”

And it’s “great to watch a good burn go off,” said Conservancy firefighter Grace Diehl. “It’s pretty neat watching everyone work together.”

In 2008, the Conservancy participated in 21 burn projects on 14 different days. Nine of these burns were research projects and the remainder ranged in size from 1/4-acre trial burns to burns on 100-acre units. In total, 316 acres were burned this year in Thurston County, Ft. Lewis and Yellow Island, Washington.

Prairie Appreciation Day

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