Prairie used to cover most of Illinois. Fires occurred routinely and naturally, which rejuvenated the prairie grasses and maintained their health, said Richie Wolf, Rock Springs Nature Center manager.
The Macon County Conservation District has used prescribed burns since 1978 to restore conservation areas for several reasons:
- To prevent the invasion of woody plant growth such as trees. If the grass didn’t burn, it would turn into a forest.
- To return the nutrient-rich ash to the soil to help plants grow
- To control the growth of non-native species. Native species can survive a fire, but fire will kill plants that harm the prairie grasses, such as sericea lespedeza, a bush clover.
While accidental fires become especially dangerous during dry spells, Wolf said the conservation district conducts its prescribed burns with trained specialists who can control them.
Prescribed burns are held November through April at Sand Creek, Rock Springs, Fort Daniel and Friends Creek Conservation Areas.