Controlled burns set to begin early in Lake County
The pleasant February weather is giving the Lake County Forest Preserve District a jump start on its yearly restoration efforts.
Teams plan to be in the field Tuesday to begin controlled burns for the 2017 spring season, several weeks earlier than normal. Usually at this time of year, snow is still on the ground and ensuing rainy, wet conditions make it difficult to conduct fires that control invasive species, remove thatch and provide other benefits.
"Typically, we're out in mid-March," said Jim Anderson, who oversees the district's restoration, forestry and wildlife experts. "It's rare when we get something done in the winter -- for the most part, we are kind of restricted."
The exact locations for burns in the second half the 2016-17 season were being determined this week. The work is weather dependent and relative humidity, temperature, soil moisture and other factors come into play.
Restoration ecologists each spring and fall conduct burns across hundreds of acres of forest preserves. Burning makes native plants more robust, lengthens the growing season and is necessary for the seeds of some species to sprout, according to the district.
The weather forecast through Sunday for Lake County calls for partly to mostly sunny days with temperatures reaching the mid-50s later in the week.
"The climate variability has given us an opportunity to get out earlier this year," Anderson said. "The whole week is looking very good for us."
About 2,500 acres per year are burned in Lake County, under a policy approved in 2001. In the 2015/16 burn season, 3,191 acres were burned, a record for a single season. Last fall, 1,845 acres were burned, the most done in a fall season, Anderson said.
"The district has become more efficient conducting controlled burns," he added.
Native Americans used fire to manage the land for hunting and agriculture. But subsequent settlers plowed the prairies, logged savannas, drained the wetlands and suppressed the seasonal fires, according to information provided by the forest district. Without the fire, aggressive, nonnative species like buckthorn invaded and shaded out native plants.
Besides killing invasive woody species. controlled burns also are used to remove thatch from previous growing seasons, facilitate seeding and herbicide treatments, cycle nutrients back into the soil, and deter the early spring growth of cool-season nonnative species.