With the arrival of autumn and the falling of the leaves, the Shawnee National Forest is starting its prescribed fire burn season.
The forest is planning to implement prescribed fire for up to 10 to 15 thousand acres. This began in October and will run through September 2020.
The Shawnee National Forest uses fire as a tool to manage its public forests in southern Illinois. Scientific research has shown that fire helps restore and maintain the oak-hickory forests that support native plants, birds and wildlife.
"Fire rejuvenates the forest. It increases nutrient availability, favors some plants over others, and can remove some litter, smaller trees and brush. This lets more sunlight into the forest floor, which is important for oak trees, the dominant tree in Illinois' forests, and many sun-loving plants," said Scott Crist, the forest's fire management officer.
"A more open forest also provides habitat for birds that are considered a priority for conservation."
Prescribed fire is a planned fire that is overseen by professionals. Prescribed fires are performed under specific weather conditions and are designed to mimic fire that historically occurred on the forest.
By bringing fire back to the forest, Shawnee National Forest hopes to:
• Encourage growth of a diverse array of native plant life.
• Ensure oaks remain the keystone species in the forests. Oaks provide food for over 100 different animals and is a key habitat for many more. Without fire, shade-tolerant tree species will eventually replace oaks.
• Perpetuate prairie and savanna remnants found within the forest. These remnant plant communities provide habitat for several early-successional song bird species, such as prairie warblers and red-headed woodpeckers. Maintaining open woodland conditions with fire, supports and increases biological diversity.
• And, protects human property by reducing the amount of down, dead wood in the forest. This will reduce the intensity of future wildfires.
To learn more about prescribed burning on the Shawnee, contact Tyson Taylor, acting fuels specialist, at 618-253-1034.