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Au Sable manages prairie with fire

The Au Sable burn scheduled for this week will let a thousand flowers bloom in the one-acre affected by the controlled blaze.  - Photo courtesy of Au Sable
The Au Sable burn scheduled for this week will let a thousand flowers bloom in the one-acre affected by the controlled blaze.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Au Sable

The Au Sable Institute has received official permits and is planning to conduct a controlled burn on several small portions of the prairie remnant located on its campus on Parker Road in Coupeville.

The burn, being performed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, is set to take place on Sept. 10, 11, or 12, depending on the weather.

Dr. Robert K. Pelant, Au Sable director, said in a news release, “As many know, the weather in the Pacific Northwest is highly variable and as a result setting a burn date and coordinating a crew can be a real challenge.”

Conditions must be right in order to achieve an effective and safe burn so weather issues such as humidity, and wind speed and direction need to fall under specific criteria described in the burn plan approved by state and local agencies.

Au Sable’s prairie remnant is host to a wide array of unique and rare plants, including endangered species such as Golden paintbrush.

“The prairies were historically a critical part of the landscape to the Native Americans, and they used fire to maintain the prairie landscape and its plants that supported their lifestyle.” said Dr. Randy Van Dragt, a restoration ecologist advising Au Sable. “Numerous studies have demonstrated that fire management significantly improves the conditions and general health of native prairie vegetation.”

Glacial outwash prairie historically covered thousands of acres, stretching from Vancouver Island, Canada in the north to Lewis County, Wash., in the south. In the northern Puget Sound, these prairies have been reduced to a few scattered locations due to development pressures and fire suppression. The prairie remnant at Au Sable is one of the largest remaining remnants found in the region today.

The burn area will cover less than one acre of the 175 acres on the Au Sable campus. Experienced fire management crews from The Nature Conservancy will be on hand to help conduct the burn. To ensure that the burn meets safety standards, water trucks and other fire management equipment will be on site. The perimeters of the small plots are also mowed and/or tilled.

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