Prairie land to be burned at WMU's Asylum Lake Preserve

Contact: Jeanne Baron
Photo of a prairie at Asylum Lake Preserve.

Fire is an important component in prairie habitats.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Up to 20 acres of prairie in Western Michigan University's Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo are scheduled for prescribed burning this spring.

The burning will take place along Parkview Avenue between Drake Road and the entrance to WMU's Gibbs House. It should be completed during the next four weeks, weather permitting. Notification signs have gone up around the preserve.

Prescribed burns are fires that are intentionally set and carefully managed. They are periodically necessary to maintain and promote the health of the native prairie grasses found in the southwest corner of the Asylum Lake Preserve. Previously, burns took place there in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Last year's planned burn was canceled because the necessary spring conditions failed to materialize.

Fire's importance

Fire used to be a regular and frequent part of prairies, oak-hickory woodlands, certain wetlands and other native ecosystems in the Midwest, notes Steve Keto, WMU natural areas and preserves manager. Whether started by lightning or Native Americans, it stimulated various plant species to grow more vigorously and discouraged others that were not adapted to fire.

"Without regular burning, fire-adapted ecosystems are invaded by non-native plants and develop less native plant and animal diversity," Keto says. "Returning fire to a site gives the competitive advantage back to the native species and restores the site to its former ecological health."

Burn process

The 274-acre Asylum Lake Preserve is managed by WMU in conjunction with the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council. Burns are done with the cooperation of the council as well as the cooperation and approval of all necessary local jurisdictions.

This year's scheduled burn is being managed by the prescribed burn crew in the ecological restoration unit of the Kalamazoo Nature Center. As with past burns, it will be planned and executed to minimize the amount of smoke produced. Prior to starting the activity, temporary "burn breaks" will be created around the area to be burned to help manage the fire and delineate the burn site's exact boundaries.

Wind speed, relative humidity and other conditions must be right for a burn to take place. Consequently, organizers wait until 24 hours before a scheduled burn to give the go-ahead, and if it does, safety equipment is on hand for fire monitoring and control.

Questions about the planned burn should be directed to Steve Keto, WMU natural areas and preserves manager, at or (269) 760-9023.

For more information about the Asylum Lake Preserve, visit

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