Nature has our backs. Let’s return the favor.

SWMLC’s public preserves remain free and open from dawn to dusk – and your support helps keep them that way!

What Happened Here?

 It’s easy to understand how this might be a person’s first reaction when they see a preserve that has just been burned.

The blackened land appears devastated, as if it will never support life again. But even though it looks bad now, the habitat will quickly bounce back with fresh plant growth because of the benefits it has received from a prescribed burn.

Prescribed burns are an important part of SWMLC’s habitat restoration and management tool-kit.

Multiflora rose, one of the intended invasive plant targets of this woodland burn.

The habitats that we burn (restored prairies, savannas, and oak woodlands) are those that evolved to handle periodic fire. In the past, fires were caused by lightning or deliberately set by the indigenous people who lived here, ancestors of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, who understood its value. The native plants in these habitats have adaptations such as thick bark or deep roots that help them survive fire, while recent invasive newcomers like autumn olive, multiflora rose, and bush honeysuckle don’t.

But with modern fire suppression, the invasive species are growing out of control, competing with native plants for water and soil nutrients, and shading the earth so that little sprouts can’t grow. Fire sets back the heavy cover of invasive plants and invigorates the soil, making a place for the native plants to thrive and creating rich habitat for wildlife.

The fire stays low and mostly just burns the dead tops of the plants.

Prescribed burns are carefully planned and executed.

Burn permits are obtained and local fire officials and preserve neighbors are alerted. Wind and weather conditions are monitored, and each phase of the burn is carefully gone over with crew members. When conducting prescribed burns, SWMLC works with Plantwise, a professional ecological restoration company that has been in business since 1998.

David Mindell, owner of Plantwise and SWMLC Stewardship and Conservation Director, Nate Fuller, go over the plan for the next phase of the burn.
Volunteer Jeff Fleming fills the water pack of SWMLC Land Steward, Megan Martin.
From left: SWMLC Land Steward Allyson Wentela, SWMLC Stewardship Specialist Mitch Lettow, and David Mindell, owner of Plantwise, going over maps and plans.

And of course, safety to people and animals is our highest concern!

So we burn in the early spring before nesting season has begun, we keep the fire small enough that animals can escape – and we close our preserves to the public while the burn is in progress.

Volunteer Paul MacNellis and SWMLC Land Steward Devin Wild, taking a quick breather.
A crew member "laying" fire, using a drip torch that dribbles liquid fire exactly where intended.
Crew members control the fire's strength and direction with squirts from their water packs.
Woodland fires can get pretty smoky!
The well-worn path through the woods acts as a firebreak -- just in case -- and the wind's direction is used to blow the fire into the intended area.
Historic fires allowed this ancient oak tree to grow big and broad by thinning out smaller, fast-growing trees that could have crowded it.

Our VERY sincere apologies to those who have arrived at one of our public preserves only to find it closed because a burn is in progress!

Please come back again soon, and keep coming back to enjoy the reinvigorated landscape.

Grow big and strong, little seeds! Yellow coneflower is one of the native savanna plants that will flourish with periodic fire

Photos from 2018 controlled burn at Wolf Tree Nature Trails, Oshtemo (Amelia Hansen).