Arboretum Uses Prescribed
Fire for Grassland Health
Wildlife fire team conducts controlled burn near downtown Houston.
A most unusual controlled urban burn took place inside the Interstate 610 Loop in Houston this past spring.
The Houston Fire Department and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department helped the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center conduct a prescribed burn on approximately 7 acres of the savannah area in the northeast corner of the nature sanctuary on March 25.
Planned prescribed burns safely mimic the essential natural fire cycle and are a common land management technique for improving resiliency and diversity of native habitat. Periodic burns also mitigate the risk of destructive wildfires by reducing the “fuel load” in the designated area: dead trees, leaf litter and other flammable vegetation.
Jaime González, Houston Healthy Cities program director at the Nature Conservancy in Texas, worked for the Houston Arboretum during its first prescribed burn in 1999.
“The value of prescribed fire for grassland health was on full display the fall after we burned the meadow,” he says. “Nutrients that had been locked up in old grass thatch had been released and made available to native grasses and wildflowers, and other species that had been struggling to find light and room finally had their chance. No one could remember a more beautiful fall wildflower season.”
Prescribed fires help the Arboretum maintain its historic ecosystems, increase biodiversity and preserve Gulf Coast prairie and savannah, both endangered ecosystems essential for native wildlife. Healthy grasslands are better able to absorb and filter floodwaters. Grassland birds need fire to maintain open habitat for nesting and feeding.
For information on wildland fire management and prescribed fire, visit tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/wildland_fire_management/.
TPWD Staff Chris Schenck | TPWD
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