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Burning The Preserves: Controlled Burns Restore Vitality

Fire is the most efficient and economical tool available for managing Winnebago County’s natural communities. It controls invasive shrubs and trees. Without fire, buckthorn, honeysuckle and other weedy species would muscle their way into local habitats and shade out native plants.

Before this land was settled, naturally occurring wildfires were a crucial element in maintaining the land’s health and beauty. These fires allowed for prairies, woods, and wetlands to prosper. Teams of specially trained staff administer controlled burns on hundreds of acres of forest preserve land each year. Signs are posted at the burn sites to notify visitors and neighbors of the burning project. Burned areas appear scorched and barren immediately following the burn, but lush green plants rapidly appear, and the area is teeming with diverse plant and animal life within weeks.

Week 1
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Week 8


How Fire Aids in Restoration:

  • Reduces accumulated plant litter that blocks sunlight
  • Recycles nutrients to enrich the soil
  • Increases water storage capacity of the soil
  • Enhances germination, flowering, and seed production of many native plants
  • Controls the growth of woody vegetation
  • Enhances the health, beauty of woods and prairies

Spring and fall are the seasons for burning. In early spring, if conditions are not too wet, WCFPD burn crews may be burning at various forest preserve locations. Mike Groves, WCFPD Natural Resource Manager, says, “We really try to get the bulk of the burning done as early in the season as possible so as not to disrupt any nesting.” Wind conditions, snow melt and precipitation are all major challenges in finding windows of opportunity for burning. Fall often offers a second burn season when mating and nesting concerns are minimal. Often it is drier in the fall and leaf debris on the forest floor provides fuel which aids in woodland burns.

Whether burning spring or fall, WCFPD always posts notices and signs at burn locations to inform preserve users and neighbors of burn activities.