Using Fire to Control Invasive Plants

Fire is a useful tool to reduce the number of invasive plant seeds and help restore damaged ecosystem, according to a new report published in Weed Science.

Fire key in invasive plant management

By Robert Pore
Published: Saturday, May 30, 2009 10:55 PM CDT

According to the report, previous efforts to manage invasive plants focused on eradicating them individually through various means. The report also said that it was believed fires were harmful to plant communities and had to be suppressed.

“Scientists now believe that addressing ecosystems as a whole will yield more successful results and that fire has a role to play in the restoration of these areas that have been heavily invaded by nonnative species,” according to the report.

The Central Platte Natural Resources District recently concluded its spring prescribed burns for 2009.
According to CPNRD, this year there were 17 prescribed fires totaling 965 acres burned safely. The burns were conducted in Buffalo, Dawson, Hall, Merrick, Howard, Sherman, Polk, and Platte counties.

“Utilizing these burns has helped the landowners in our district to kill thousands of unwanted cedar trees in a very fast and cost-effective manner,” Central Platte NRD prescribed burn program coordinator David Carr said.

Carr said these burns have also removed tons of hazardous woody material from pastures and fields ahead of this summer’s fire season.

“That should help slow down wildfires if lightning should strike in the area,” he said.

Since the inception of the Central Platte NRD burn program in 2005, Carr said, the burn crew has completed 92 burns without incident. He attributes this fact to the high level of training, equipment and preparation that is put into each project.

“Our crew became state certified wildland firefighters in 2005,” Carr said.

Money is available through NRCS and Pheasants Forever programs to pay for much of the burning and also to help defray the cost of letting pastures sit idle in preparation for a burn.

“Burning when the cedar trees are smaller saves a landowner tens of thousands of dollars when compared to removing older, mature trees using equipment, not to mention the lost profit from the reduced grazing capacity the cedars cause,” Carr said. “Many of the landowners I talk to don’t want to face that up-front cost of letting a pasture sit idle and then paying for a burn, but the result will more than pay for itself.”

Currently, the Central Platte NRD is accepting applications for fall 2009 and spring 2010 burn projects. Anyone who is interested in having a field burned safely should contact the NRD at (308) 385-6282. The boundary preparation is best done the fall before the fire, so the sooner the better, Carr said.

The report concerning the use of fire to suppress invasive plants said it is important because it provides much-needed data obtained from a controlled experiment and adds to the information gathered through observations of grasslands in which the conditions were uncontrolled or unknown.

According to the report, different amounts of combustible material, wheatgrass in this case, were used to burn seeds from various invasive plant species.

The researchers found that 95 percent to 98 percent of the seeds did not emerge after burning with as little as 200 grams of wheatgrass spread over each square meter of the area burned.

These results, the report said, are promising because most grasslands that have been invaded carry this much or more combustible mater-ial.

Also, it was determined that seeds near the soil surface were especially susceptible to fire, the report said, considering that the seeds of most invasive species tend to be found near the soil surface.

A number of factors, including weather patterns, should be considered when using fire to kill invasive plant seeds, the report said.

“When these factors are taken into consideration and when other management techniques, such as chemical treatment, are combined with fire, scientists will be better prepared to obtain optimum results,” the report said.

In the study, fire was determined to be a powerful tool in minimizing the emergence of invasive plant species from seeds deposited near the soil surface.

“Scientists will be able to use the results to help plan a successful integrated management system for removing invasive plants,” according to the report.

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