As sunlight streams into the lobby at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center outside of Madison, Wisconsin, visitors pull on their hats and gloves. Wind nipping at their faces, they venture out to the trail to learn about prairies, climate, and biofuels from John Greenler, who directs educational programs at the Wisconsin Energy Institute.
A few steps down the trail Greenler asked, “What makes a prairie?”
Heads turned left and right, but no one volunteered a guess.
“Fire,” Greenler responded. “You can plant a wide array of prairie species hoping to restore the habitat, but until the land has been burned, a true prairie will not emerge. Fire is mission critical for a prairie.”
Prairie restoration experts and land managers are working to bring back the prairies and the benefits they bring to the landscape. One of the most successful techniques is the use of controlled burns to eradicate invasive plants and encourage new growth, Greenler explained.
“If you’ve ever been close to a prairie fire, you know that it’s really hot.” Greenler said. “A lot of energy is being released when you burn prairie.”