Magazine article American Forests

A Fire-Changed Savanna

Magazine article American Forests

A Fire-Changed Savanna

Article excerpt

In the late 1980s, the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, realized it had a woodland dilemma. A recent pollen study of the strata in a nearby ancient bog revealed that the land had been an oak hickory savanna for at least 6,700 years. Although the woods contained many large white and red oaks, not a single young tree was found during a thorough survey of the understory. Staff sought the advice of forest ecologist Gerould Wilhelm, who was then employed at Chicago's Morton Arboretum.

Wilhelm felt that oak reproduction was prevented by a dense understory of shade-tolerant exotic woody plants. He recommended prescribed burns to retard fire-tender species and create the disturbance oaks need to reproduce.

Nature Center staff began burning its oak woodlands in 1989. Boy Scouts using bow saws removed exotic understory trees too large to be killed by the low-intensity fires. Burns followed bow sawing, and the woods was gradually transformed back to an oak savanna. …

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