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Land Managers point to benefits of controlled burning in Willamette Valley

Land managers have been using ecological burns to maintain and enhance the native prairies in West Eugene. They say the practice also helps to reduce the risk of wildfires.

At Meadowlark Prairie, Lane County Parks Natural Areas Coordinator Ed Alverson pointed to a unit that was burned last October. Blue camas flowers dot the grassland.

“Fire is really a natural part of the ecology for many thousands of years,” said Alverson. “And it’s a really interesting situation because we know that most, if not all of the fire was actually set by the Kalapuya people.”

The practice of ecological burning which was used by Willamette Valley native people like the Kalapuya is now recognized for its benefits. The Willamette Valley has lost most of its prairie and savannah habitat. Ecological burning can keep what’s left of it healthy and support species like the Western Meadowlark this prairie was named for.

Alverson said the Rivers to Ridges Partnership has been using prescribed burning for the last 40 years. Last fall, 32 units were burned over a total of 479 acres that belong to seven different agencies. The partnership includes Lane County Parks, Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah, City of Eugene, Willamalane Parks, US Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, McKenzie River Trust, The Nature Conservancy and others.

The burns are conducted under strict weather and safety conditions.

“They’re really low intensity burns,” said Alverson. “Short flame lengths. They move really quickly, and they’re just removing the fuel from the previous years. And they also really stimulate the flowering and growth of the native prairie species.”

The fire helps restore native prairie, savanna and oak woodland habitats while reducing the risk of high-intensity wildfire.

Alverson encouraged the public to visit places like Meadowlark Prairie to see the benefits of their ecological burning program.

The City of Eugene has a map of potential future controlled burns on its website, www.eugene-or.gov/prescribedfire.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.