Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Scorched Earth Policy

Conservation, Critters, Prescribed Burns

My 88 readers know how I feel about wildlife.  I love seeing wild critters.  But if you want to see them you have to provide everything they need - namely the basics - food, cover and water.  And you have to maintain it.  That means keeping the invasives at bay and periodically performing housekeeping activities.

We've got roughly six acres planted in native grasses and forbs out behind the house up north.  Four species of grasses and a dozen flowering plants to be exact.  It encircles the larger of our two ponds, borders Silver Creek and is home to countless birds.  Even the deer like to bed in the safety of the grasses that grow taller than I am.  As per usual the planting has begun to manifest evidence of invading dogwood, willow, some cottonwood, reed canary grass and phragmites.  It was time to wipe the slate clean. 

So we burned it.

We had hoped to get this activity completed more than a year ago but Mother Nature and the weather wouldn't cooperate.  Alternately too windy, too wet or with a burning ban in effect we couldn't pull it off.  Finally, the conditions aligned last week and we got 'r done.

The benefits of prescribed burning are many-fold.  A burn removes the accumulation of combustible material on the ground thereby reducing the intensity of a wildfire.  Undesirable weeds, grasses and  shrubs are killed.   Nutrients are released to the soil and a blackened surface heats-up quickly encouraging a flush of new growth that not only out competes the non-natives but is attractive forage for wildlife.  Specifically, attractive to insects which in turn attracts more birds.

Burning is not for amateurs however so it is always best to have pros conduct the practice.  After the ground froze last fall I cut the firebreaks using the New Holland tractor and the Rhino brush cutter.  Rule of thumb:  cut twice as wide as the stuff you are burning is tall.  The closely-cropped breaks green-up quickly in spring and backstop the burn just like in the picture below.

Back burn into the wind.  

And after you have scorched enough earth to capture any stray sparks you can ignite smaller head fires that burn intensely with the wind.

Tosa is home to the County Grounds and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District has planted much of it into native vegetation.  I know that the hospitals have expressed concern about burning as a management practice.  They're afraid of the smoke.  But I'd bet that a small demonstration burn would allay their fears and be a totally teachable moment for the community.  Besides, that property cries-out for maintenance and a burn would be so beneficial to the birds, the butterflies, the bees and all of the critters in the food chain.

In the meantime out back I'm looking at what could be described as a stubbly moonscape.  But it will green-up quickly.  Check back periodically this summer as I'll post some pictures of the flush of flowers that comes as a result.

A scorched earth policy - good for the critters.


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