Prairie is an important native ecosystem that provides habitat for a unique set of animals. However, prairies are naturally fire-dependent. Historically, fires sparked by lightening or Native Americans would burn through this land. Although fire now has a negative reputation, it is actually a natural process that hinders encroaching plants, removes suffocating plant matter, stimulates new vegetative growth and activates dormant seeds. When the occurrence of fire is removed from a prairie ecosystem (often due to an area's proximity to humans), the area is quickly overrun by trees and shrubs.
Currently, Fontenelle Forest (FF) has restored and maintains four planted prairies. Each year, FF staff and volunteers conduct a prescribed burn on one prairie. Just as with natural and human-ignited fires in the past, prescribed burning today accomplishes many important ecological functions. The prairies are burned in rotation to leave proper habitat for the numerous beneficial insects, birds and other animals that make their homes in the prairie.
Within days of a prescribed burn, new vegetation begins to pop through the blackened soil. Within a few weeks, an unknowing hiker passing the prairie doesn't even know that a fire occurred.
Plan your escape this summer with Nebraska Passport. Get a stamp at Fontenelle Forest.