Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighters this year will return to using deliberately set fires to improve wildlife habitat.  The “prescribed burns” will only take place on state-owned lands and under conditions firefighters believe will allow them to fully control the burning. The department last year suspended the practice due to restrictions created by the COVID-10 virus outbreak. Deliberately set fires have recently been used in this area, including at the Fort Custer State Recreation Area in Augusta.

Any given year, the department uses these controlled fires on as many as  9,000 acres. And not all are in out-of-the-way areas. DNR firefighters recently used a prescribed burn to improve habitat conditions at the Milliken State Park in downtown Detroit, within sight of the Renaissance Center. The next spring, the site was covered with fresh vegetation creating an inviting scene for birds, bugs, and small mammals.

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The state generally uses the deliberate burns to either create improved habitat for critters, or to get rid of a buildup of dry vegetation that could erupt in flames during hot, dry spells, and lead to huge wildfires that might be a lot harder to bring under control than a small managed burn. Another reason the department may initiate a controlled burn is an area that is overrun with invasive plants that might not be effectively controlled by pulling them out of the ground.

Photo: michigan.gov
Photo: michigan.gov

A great benefit of some of the prescribed burn areas is that many also turn into a great setting for the growth of morel mushrooms. Michigan’s heralded spring mushroom grows well in many former burn areas. The Department of Natural Resources even promotes those locations for mushroom hunters to check out each spring.

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