Why is Fire Important?

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Fire is just one of the tools the Nature Center uses to rid itself of invasive species.
Skid steer clearing Chinese Privet at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
An oak savannah that has been invaded by Chinese Privet. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

Many things in this world can be tamed and controlled; others can be manipulated to do what we want. I feel fire falls into both categories, if applied correctly. Historically, fire used to sweep across our landscapes wild and out of control. It is said that Native peoples learned how to manipulate fire in such a way as to become advantageous rather than detrimental. These efforts shaped our native landscapes and allowed our ecosystems to thrive with an abundance of game and beneficial plants.

For many, fire is a devastating event that has the ability to take homes, cars, and even lives; however, for our native flora and fauna, fire provides life. In grassland and savannah ecosystems, fire is one of the most important elements in providing balance to the whole. Without fire, these ecosystems would evolve into scrub/woodland expanses, and we would see a dramatic shift in our native grassland species, causing many of them to disappear — some for good. The lands that we inhabit today historically saw fire on a regular basis. A team of scientists created a model that predicts historic wildfire frequency for the United States. What they were able to demonstrate transformed my mindset about how the Nature Center’s lands should be managed. By using different weather components, scientists were able to determine that in a two-hundred-year period (1650-1850), the Fort Worth region experienced a two-to-four-year burn interval.

Historical fire map
This map represents the estimated wildfire frequency for the period 1650-1850, according to research by Daniel Dey, Richard Guyette, and Michael Stambaugh.

This has led me to identify areas around the Refuge that historically have been prairies or savannahs and attempt to restore them. The Refuge management team is concluding the first phase of a 75-acre restoration project that eventually will reestablish an oak savannah in what is now an overgrown, highly dense shrubland. With financial assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, we rented a skid steer capable of operating a brush cutter and mulching attachment. Staff has worked through equipment breakdowns and undesirable weather, but we have completed the majority of the brush-clearing aspects of the project. During this first phase, some may experience a sort of shell shock. The project will look “messy” for a couple years, but in due time, the transformation will be become more apparent. Phase 2 will require an herbicide application to help tame non-native invasive species. Following the herbicide application, a prescribed burn will be necessary to help clean up the downed debris. The burn also will allow for the scarification process to occur, encouraging many of the native grass seeds to start the germination process. After the first prescribed burn, staff, using sound science, will then be able to return to the two-to-four-year burn rotation identified.

Skid steer in front of cleared field
Completion of Phase 1, laying the groundwork for a lush oak savannah. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

I don’t feel that we will ever be able to recreate the past and fully manage our lands as Mother Nature once did, but perhaps we can get close. Unfortunately, with the spread of many invasive species and urbanization, our job as land managers becomes more challenging each day. We must think outside the box and use the different tools in our toolbox to successfully achieve our land management goals, allowing our native flora and fauna to thrive.

By Daniel Price, Natural Resource Manager, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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A very special thank you to those who helped the Friends honor Bob O’Kennon and celebrate our 50th anniversary at Fort Worth Wild 2024.