Why We Burn

The Nature Conservancy in Michigan

Fire, like rain and sunshine, has been an important part of our environment for thousands of years, shaping the very nature of life on Earth. From an ecological perspective, naturally ignited fires and fires started by people that reinforce natural fire cycles, are beneficial and life-sustaining in ecosystems that have evolved with fire.

In fire-dependent ecosystems, fire is an essential natural process. Many plants and animals have evolved to tolerate the periodic sweep of flame and depend on fire for their growth and reproduction.

In the absence of fire, many fire-sensitive plant species compete with naturally occurring, fire-adapted plants, greatly altering many landscapes in Michigan. Fire helps these ecosystems thrive by inhibiting invasive plant species that dominate native species.

The presence of fire also helps protect endangered species. The rare Karner blue butterfly larvae feed exclusively on wild lupine, a plant dependent on fire for its survival. The federally endangered Kirtland’s warbler also depends on fire.

In many native landscapes, prescribed burning:
• recycles nutrients tied up in old plant growth,
• controls many woody plants and herbaceous weeds, and
• improves poor quality forage,
in turn, improving wildlife habitats.

The reintroduction of fire back into many of Michigan’s natural landscapes symbolizes the reinstatement of a natural and essential ecosystem process. Prescribed burns, the type used by The Nature Conservancy, are very different from wildfires. Wildfires are often unpredictable, hard to control, and hold the potential for a great deal of damage.

Recognizing the importance of fire to natural ecosystems, The Nature Conservancy, along with partners such as the Michigan Prescribed Fire Council, has helped governments, organizations, and communities to find lasting solutions to the challenges posed by altered fire dynamics for more than 30 years.

By using fire, The Nature Conservancy, along with our partners, helps to restore native landscapes, ensuring the long-term survival of countless plant, animal, and insect species as seen by the regrowth of this white lady slipper seedling.

Prescribed burning should only be conducted by a trained professional. For more info, contact The Nature Conservancy at http://www.conservationgateway.org/ConservationPractices/FireLandscapes/Pages/fire-landscapes.aspx or (517) 316-0300 or the Michigan Prescribed Fire Council at www.firecouncil.org.