Update: Bringing Fire to the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference

Join us on Tuesday, October 22 for this special session with land managers and ecologists from across the region. This session is co-organized by the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium and the Lake States Fire Science Consortium.

Many land managers have experienced that prescribed fire can be an imperfect tool for suppressing invasive species populations, frustrating their attempts to restore an ecological process that is vital to native plant communities, wildlife, and ecosystem function. This session shares case studies from land managers and ecologists who have experienced the limitations and complexities of using prescribed fire to suppress invasive plant species. 

Three case studies highlight innovations including: 1) pre-burn management using other tools to foster more desirable fuel loads; 2) planning and implementing prescribed fires of the appropriate timing, intensity/severity, and/or frequency to suppress invasive species and foster native plants and wildlife; and 3) using adaptive management and monitoring to better understand the effects of grassland management tools. We'll conclude with a 20 minute panel discussion and field questions from the audience.

Overview: Prescribed Fire and Invasive Plants – Effects and Use of an Imperfect Tool

Jack McGowan-Stinski, Coordinator, Lake States Fire Science Network

Case Study #1: Mechanical Shrub/Tree Removal Preceding Re-Introduction of Fire to Grasslands and Savannas

Joel Kemm, Fire Management Specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, St. Croix Wetland Management District

Case Study #2: Annual Prescribed Burning to Facilitate Recovery of a Federally Threatened Orchid

Jim Lutes, Wildlife Biologist, Leopold Wetland Management District

Case Study #3: Adaptive Approaches to Managing Prairies on Conservation Lands in the Prairie Pothole Region

 Sara Vacek and Cami Dixon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Panel Discussion:  

 Joel Kemm, Jim Lutes, Craig Maier, Jack McGowan-Stinski, and Sara Vacek

More information about the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference is available at


Can Burning Benefit Insects in Isolated Prairies?

The lack of long term data looking at how invertebrates respond to prescribed fire led Ron Panzer to conduct a six year study spanning three states. Invertebrates were grouped by their dependence on remnant prairie sites and populations tracked through multiple burns to determine rates of recovery. 

Implications for Management:

  • Annual fires may not allow a long enough recovery time for a minority subset of prairie insects
  • Burning every 2-3 years may balance concerns over insect recovery with other conservation goals (e.g., plants, birds)
  • Remnant dependent insects recover at the same rate as remnant independent insects

For a summary of the study's results and implications for management, you can view or download a PDF version of "Can burning benefit insects in isolated prairies?

This research brief for research managers summarizes the following peer-reviewed publication:

Ron Panzer. 2002. Compatibility of prescribed burning with the conservation of insects in small, isolated, prairie reserves. Conservation Biology 16:1296-1307.

More briefs are available on our Research Briefs Blog.


Complex Interactions in Oak Savanna Restorations

Observations Requested for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Synthesis

Do you restore oak savanna in the Midwest? If you've noted complex interactions occurring as a result, Pauline Drobney, Prairie and Savanna Zone Biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Serve, is interested in hearing your observations. Drobney and fellow wildlife biologist Rebecca Esser are working on a handbook for identifying and restoring oak savannas.  "The best indicators of condition and ecological health are those involving multiple taxa and abiotic conditions," notes Drobney. "They indicate processes are working. I'd like to find ways for savanna managers to be able to look for discrete signs of increasing health or degradation."

One example was recently shared on the Iowa Native Plants list serve by Sibylla Brown, who has noted Edwards' hairstreak butterflies in frequently burned oak dominated systems in southern Iowa:

According to Cech & Tudor’s Butterflies of the East Coast, '"Edwards' hairstreaks are confined to low-growth scrub oak habitats with nearby ant colonies (principally, if not exclusively Formica integra)." The ants tend and protect Edwards’s larvae in exchange for sweet secretions.  The ant colonies are located not just where Edwards’s occur, but also where they can obtain an uninterrupted supply of ‘honeydew’-both during and after the Edwards’s brief larval period. The presence of tenant larval treehoppers and scale insects-which ants also attend-is thus important.  Attendant ants construct conical, ant hill-like shelters at the base of host trees, where older Edwards’ caterpillars rest during the day  At night, the caterpillars emerge to feed, escorted by protector ants.

If you have an observation to share, feel free to add a comment below, or contact Pauline Drobney.


Why We Burn: the Message From Timberhill

 Eastern bluebird utilizing cavities created by red-headed woodpeckers. Photo by Sibylla Brown.

Editor's note: Thanks to the author Sibylla Brown for permission to share her writing and photograph with the TPOS audience. Founded by William & Sibylla Brown in 1993, Timberhill Oak Savanna comprises 200 acres of woodlands, prairie openings and wetlands in Decatur County, Iowa. Sibylla documents the restoration journey with insightful posts at their website, where this excerpt orginally appeared - Timberhill Oak Savanna.

Running fire through our 200 acres each year takes a lot of effort. Our crew all have weekday jobs so the only days we can schedule a burn is on Saturday or Sunday.  And if it rains or is too windy we have to reschedule.  Our land is divided into four burn units. We need a crew for three of them. That’s three scheduled burns.  It would be easy to skip a year or burn just one unit a year.  But then I remember why we burn:  that prescribed fire is the best way to maintain habitat for a diversity of wildlife.

At Timberhill, fire has created a structural complexity that includes prairie openings and woodlands with healthy live trees, snags, down wood, and understory flora of grasses, sedges, and forbs.  The snags and standing dead trees are essential habitat for red headed woodpeckers. Red-heads build a new nest each year.  Their abandoned nests provide nesting for other species after the first year. For indigo buntings, field sparrows and prairie warblers there are prairie scrub and woodland interface. Several pairs of summer tanagers raise broods in the more heavily timbered tracts.  There is even colony of Henslow’s sparrows in our West Creek prairie.

Ours is a sharply dissected landscape with ridgetop prairie openings, steeply timbered slopes, and ravines. Before we began restoration a hard edge separated the prairies from the woodlands.  Fire has eliminated this barrier and to the birds Timberhill is now one continuous tract.  Even birds sensitive to forest fragmentation such as the wood thrush and yellow-throated vireo make this their summer home.

Without any seeding the number of vascular plants has increased almost 500%.  Not only has fire increased soil fertility by releasing nutrients into the soil, but is has stimulated plants from the seed bank. These plants harbor an abundant insect population for breeding and brood rearing. Fire has also lowered soil acidity by stimulating legumes such as cream wild indigo, leadplant, white prairie clover, tick trefoil, and  bush clovers. These plants provide high quality protein for quail, wild turkey, and other birds.

The increased diversity and abundance of butterfly nectar sources has been remarkable, especially in our West Creek unit. In 2005 when we began restoration there I could find only 2 butterfly milkweed plants.  Last summer I counted 40.  Later in the season numerous swamp milkweeds and rough blazing stars continue to provide nectar into fall. From first bloom to fall frost various hairstreaks, fritillaries, skippers, and other butterfly genera are abundant on these nectar plants. (Our annual dormant season fires have the least impact on the invertebrates.  We have documented many fire sensitive species at Timberhill.) 



Events around the Midwest

A digest of the many working groups and conferences covering fire-related topics, from National Pollinator Week to the Grassland Restoration Network.

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Upcoming Field Trips

Upcoming field trips highlight butterflies and fire and managing habitat for rare species.

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Training Opportunities

Courses in Wisconsin, Michigan, and a two-week training exchange in the grasslands, savannas, and forests of northern Arizona

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New Guide to Tools for Resources for Identifying and Managing Invasive Species

Our surveys indicate managers in our region want more information about how prescribed fire impacts invasive species. We're sharing a new guide for searching databases that aims to help you quickly find information about fire and the species that occur in this region.

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New Research Briefs!

Three new briefs provide updates on: patch burn grazing (IA/MO); fire frequency in remnant prairies (WI); and restoration techniques in oak-pine barrens (WI).

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