Friday, April 22, 2011

In burned woods and glades

I would be hard pressed to list more than 20 sites (with any integrity) in the Ozarks that were burned during the 2010-11 fire season. On my commute home, I could only gin up a list of 8 sites that I plan to visit this growing season, so I padded the list in the event I somehow forgot about a part of the Ozarks I don't normally visit.

Yes, fire season is over until late July when growing season fires commence on glades in certain parts of the Ozarks--think St. Francois Mountains, White River Hills, those glades totally surrounded by dense, overstocked woods that won't burn when leaves are on the trees. What a bust. Not only were the weather conditions erratic, certain fire districts and weather forecasters issued burn bans and red flag warnings at the hint of dry conditions and winds 9 mph or higher. Of course, some of the warnings were warranted, like that time when the humidities plummeted to single digits and it had been 6 days since rain. But considering that many fire prescriptions are written with optimum windspeeds of 10-11mph to allow fire to move across the broad flat ridges, some of the burn bans were unwarranted and served as roadblocks to implementing a natural disturbance regime that has been practiced responsibly in Missouri for over 30 years. I kept track of all the burn bans that were issued when there were 10 inches, 5inches, 22 inches of snow on the ground. I also kept track of all the burn bans and warnings that were issued when it was actively raining and not even napalm would ignite the saturated fuels in the Ozarks. I moved to Missouri because I thought prescribed fire and resource protection were institutionalized here. I'm not convinced they are.

Anyway, a bad year for fire. Worse than 2009 when it rained and snowed all fall, winter, and spring.

So, as usual, I tend to migrate to those high quality parcels of land that did see fire this season. Among the stars of the week were a huge population of a dolomite glade fern, Adder's tongue fern (Ophioglossum englemanii) left, shooting stars, and the whole suite of spring glade plants that always look so fresh and young and new after a fire, yet their rootstocks are ancient and deep.

And woodlands! I revisited the site of a woodland restoration project from the 1980s today to find hordes of warblers and a landscape chocked of high quality forbs.

If you can only go out to one of these burned dolomite glades once a season (for some reason), wait until Memorial Day for an explosion of yellow glade coneflowers. I need not be reminded that biodiversity is maximized when the very natural disturbance processes that gave rise to the rich ecosystems to begin with are implemented once again.


Anonymous said...

I am curious to know how the following trees react to burns: paw paws, walnuts, dogwoods, redbuds, & persimmons. Also, how about morel mushrooms? Is there any effect on their occurence over a burned area? Thanks.

Allison Vaughn said...

In areas where pawpaws are really common, even the dominant tree with maples, fire usually doesn't burn very well in those areas--so, for example, in a 500 acre burn, if there's a little sinkhole with maples, basswood, pawpaws, the fire will generally not go there, but fizzle out. But dogwoods, redbuds, persimmons and walnuts are all dry woodland plants and are fire mediated. Fire will not hurt them, but in fact help. Also, on morels, it's been my experience that I find more morels in burned woodlands because there's more light reaching the floor when you burn/less leaf litter to poke through. Last year, I was on a fire and waiting on the fireline for direction, we had just burned this nice chert woodland and I looked down into the burn unit and found nice morels that were lightly toasted. I ate them on the spot.

Miguel Vieira said...

Hey, those look like Delphinium, Dodecatheon, Sisyrinchium, and Zigadenus. It's neat to see genera in the Ozarks that are familiar from our woodlands here in California. Thanks for the post.

Allison Vaughn said...

You're right on, Miguel! I hope your spring is as awesome as ours is in the Ozarks. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

On the other side of the Sabine, albeit not controlled.

Heather's Dad

Allison Vaughn said...

The prescribed fire photos from nighttime are incredible. It's always sad, of course, when people lose their lives fighting fires.

Ed said...

Camassia and Dodecatheon are common associates in prairie and savanna habitats in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, as well. For example, see

Allison Vaughn said...

Where! I go to the Willamette Valley each summer and always try to seek out the great spots of savanna (with those awesome, open grown Gary oaks), and i've only been able to see one tract of prairie, a TNC site that was really small and penned in by development on all sides.
If you send me the cherry spots, sites that still see rx fire, and that have a semblance of the historic structure and composition of the native Willamette Valley landscape, I won't publish the comment, but I will seek out the sites and cherish them as much as I do your wine.