Prairie Restoration


History of the Preserve's Mesic Prairie Reconstruction Project

In 2001, approximately 68 acres of former cornfield and Eurasian meadow were prepared and planted with a seed mix that contained 22 native grasses, forbs and legumes. To simulate a pre-settlement oak savanna, 40 Bur Oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) and 2 Shagbark Hickories (Carya ovata) were rescued from construction sites and transplanted in parts of the prairie. Below is a list and of the plants included in the seed mix.


Big Bluestem (Andropogan gerardii)

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, Andropogan scoparius)

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

Priarie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)



New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

White False Indigo (Baptisia lactaea)

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Heart-leaved Golden Alexanders (Zizia aptera)

Rough Blazingstar (Liatris aspera)

Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)

Dotted Mint (Monarda punctata)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)

Ox-eye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)

Lance-leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)

Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriacus)

Western Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis)

Lupine (Lupinus perennis)


Why Burn the Prairie?

Asylum Lake Preserve is an isolated remnant of what once was a much larger landscape that was maintained by fire, grazing and other natural disturbances. Fire is one of the more useful land restoration techniques. Prescribed fire is used as a management tool not only for its historically good track record, but because of its low relative cost when compared to mowing and herbicide use. It's important to remember that the plants of the tallgrass prairie did not simply adapt to growing with fire, they evolved with fire over the course of tens of thousands of years.


Consider the Following Benefits of Prescribed Fire:

  • More native plants flower, produce seed and are more robust when prescribed fire is used in the management plan.
  • Fire lengthens the growing season for native plants and shortens the growing season for Eurasian weeds.
  • After a spring fire, the dark soil warms quickly to the benefit of prairie plants and to the detriment of weeds.
  • Cool-season Eurasian weed grasses such as the Blue Grasses (Poa sp.), Quack Grass (Agropyron repens) and many Bromes (Bromus sp.) stop growing as the soil warms.
  • Late spring fire can burn off 3"-8" of weeds before the prairie plants even begin growing. Most prairie plants are warm-season forbs, legumes and grasses.
  • Microbial activity in the soil is stimulated by fire and the nutrients released by ash. More than 40 species of arthropods are attracted to burned sites because of smoke, increased soil temperatures and higher CO2 levels.
  • Invasive woody weeds are at a disadvantage due to the formation of the dense prairie sod that prevents seedlings from germinating.

What is Prescribed Fire?

Prescribed fire is a very carefully planned and controlled burn. Before prescribed fire is used at Asylum Lake Preserve, a document known as a "burn prescription" is prepared. The document identifies the acceptable conditions under which a burn will take place. Some of these conditions include expected fire intensity, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, air temperature and fuel moisture. Also contained in the burn prescription is a plan for how the fire will be ignited and contained.

It is difficult to predict good burn weather more than a few hours ahead of time. If any of the conditions identified in the burn prescription is unacceptable or "out of prescription," the burn is postponed.



WMU's 1st Prescribed Burn:

After allowing a full growing season for the plantings in 2002, it was time to plan a burn. In the spring of 2003, a trained and experienced burn crew was hired by the University to conduct the first prescribed burn on the reconstructed prairie. Assisting the 'Burn Boss' and his crew were staff members from Landscape Services. Fire crews from both the Oshtemo and Kalamazoo Fire Departments were on hand in case they were needed.

On April 24, 2003 our Burn Boss, Jim Bruce, decided that conditions in the burn prescription were satisfied. Wind speed was 6-8 mph from the SSW and would keep smoke from blowing over Drake Road. Air temperature and relative humidity were predicted to be such that smoke would rise aloft rather than blowing closer to the ground. Fuel moisture was excellent, however, we experienced a lack of fuel. In all but two of the burn units, there was insufficient vegetation to carry a fire.

This, however, was not the case with burn units 2 and 3, which consist of the Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) plots immediately south of the dirt path which divides the savanna and prairie. Here, the dry grasses waved 6' in the air and promised a spectacular burn.

Trees within the burn units were first protected by spot-firing around them. A "black line" of burned vegetation was formed by back-firing the lee side of the grasses. Finally, the head-fires were ignited which raced across the plots, meeting the back-fires in the middle. Standing in a safe location up-wind, the roar of the headfire was so loud that several of us simply put down our tools to enjoy the spectacle.


When Will the Next Burn Take Place?

The next burn has yet to be determined. The prairie has been divided into burn units and as of the spring of 2007, each of the units has been burned at least once. During the summer of 2008, a floristic inventory was performed on the property. Based on the results of this inventory, we will be able to create an effective burn schedule. Once the conservative prairie plants are firmly established and weeds are under control, we will limit burns to only 1 or 2 burn units each year. This will provide refuges for insects, birds and a myriad of other forms of wildlife. The goal of fire management at Asylum Lake Preserve is to establish a biologically diverse habitat and increase the educational and aesthetic experience for visitors.


~Pictures From A Past Burn~

The Oshtemo Fire Dept. is present Pictures are taken from above The media is present
Interviews are perfomed A burn briefing is taking place Fire trucks are nearby for safety
Firebreaks are mowed The windspeed is checked The fire is started
A torch is being used Fires are lit along prairie edge First signs of smoke
The fire spreads... and spreads... still spreading...
A racing headfire is created The opposite end is ignited The fires converge
The fires meet in the middle The mulch is extinguished After the burn



Related Links:

Michigan Prescribed Fire Council

The Nature Conservancy - Fire Management

The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Society for Ecological Restoration International



WMU seal