Historically, periodic fires caused by humans and lightning played a critical role in the evolution of prairies and oak savannas.
Native Americans used fire to facilitate hunting, gathering, cropping, travel and pest control.
When Europeans began settling in southern Wisconsin, they suppressed wildfires in an effort to protect their homes and families. In the 1940s, the UW-Madison Arboretum pioneered the introduction of prescribed fire as a management tool.In order to restore healthy prairies and savannas, we must once again “let it burn.”
Prescribed fires are set on purpose according to a written plan (prescription) that defines the objectives and expected results.
Because safe and successful burns are complex operations, they are best carried out by professionally trained and equipped burn crews.
Although most prescribed fires do not burn as hot as the intense fires that helped create the original prairies and oak savannas, prescribed burning is widely used to weaken or kill invasive plants that might otherwise outcompete native fire-adapted species.
Over time, recurrent fires tend to increase the density and productivity of desirable native plants and suppress competing weeds, including woody invasives like buckthorn and honeysuckle.
Prescribed fire is an important tool that complements other ongoing restoration efforts.
Fire was reintroduced in the Dane County section of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy in the late 1990s. Friends of Pheasant Branch volunteers worked with Dane County personnel on the first small burns.
As the prairies and oak savanna became more established, the Friends of Pheasant Branch began contracting professional burn crews to carry out larger prescribed burns. Volunteers still assist in preparing the area for burning.