Prescribed burns in Madison spark conversation about prairie conservation

Prescribed burns in Madison spark conversation about prairie conservation

It’s springtime in Madison and that means it’s also prescribed burn season.

Ten burns are scheduled for 2018, and they are both intentional and integral to preserve local prairie lands for future generations.

The Madison Parks Division plans burns six months in advance. A team from the city burned 15 acres of Prairie Ridge Conservation Park, on the west side, Thursday afternoon.

“We start at the downwind side, so the fire has to work against the wind,” explained Paul Quinlan, Madison city parks conservation supervisor.

His team uses a drip-torch that drops a small amount of diesel and gasoline to start the slow-burning fire. Prescribed burns take hours. Thursday’s burn lasted from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Burns promote the growth of native plants that feed on fire, while torching invasive vegetation.

“The prairie habitat and the oak woodland habitat up on the hill depends on fire,” said Quinlan.

The parks division burned 15 acres in total yesterday at Prairie Ridge.

Without prescribed burns, open land in Madison would become a forest.

“Forests are great, but there’s only so much prairie and savanna left, so we’re trying to preserve that,” said Quinlan.

Prescribed burns are conducted in wilderness areas, not neighborhoods. But the Madison Fire Department has two important safety reminders heading into the warmer months:

1. It is legal to use fire pits in town, as long as they’re 15 feet away from buildings.

2. Burning yard waste, like leaves, grass, and branches, is illegal.

Dane County also has several prescribed burns scheduled this spring. While county-prescribed burns are safe, people are encouraged to give crews enough space to properly control the flames. Dane County encourages anyone who would like a closer look to volunteer through its burn program, here: