Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Prescribed burn enhances wetlands, prairies at Oak Creek site

Our Environmental department orchestrated a prescribed burn of about 30 acres of prairie land at our Oak Creek Power Plant site on April 6. The site contains about 75 acres of wetlands and prairies.

As part of the permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to build the new units at Oak Creek, we are required to maintain and improve the wetlands and prairies on the plant grounds. Conducting a prescribed or planned burn helps to remove dead vegetation that can smother young plants. The resulting ash from the burn also nourishes the healthy prairie plants.

A burn such as the one recently completed is scheduled about every three to five years, according to Susan Schumacher, senior environmental consultant, depending on vegetative growth.

Midwest Prairies, a contractor with the expertise for controlled burns that frequently performs environmental restoration work for our company, conducted the burn.

Executing a burn
A burn is carefully planned and executed, according to Schumacher. Fire breaks are created in the vegetation along the prairie boundary by mowing the vegetation close to the ground. The breaks are created the year prior to the burn as a way to prevent the spread of a burn beyond the planned area.

The date chosen for the burn depends on weather. Conditions must be dry, with low wind speeds. Often, a specific wind direction is required. Meeting all of these conditions ensures that the fire line moves in a desired direction across the prairie and can be controlled at all times.

This site is located to the northwest of the main plant entrance, across Highway 32. A back burn is ignited first to create a large firebreak. After the back burn is complete, a head fire was ignited, which burned through the cattail marsh toward the back burn location.

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