Prescribed burn brings renewal to Botanic Garden-BRIT prairie

Published on February 10, 2021

aerial shot of the prescribed burn with the skyline in the background

A remarkable sight greeted drivers rolling down University Drive on Jan. 13: fire on the prairie behind the Fort Worth Botanic Garden-Botanical Research Institute headquarters.

But this was no uncontrolled blaze, and no one was in any danger. In fact, the fire was carefully planned to renew the grassland.

“Fire is a natural part of the prairie ecosystem,” said BRIT Vice President for Education Tracy Friday. “For thousands of years, fires regularly swept the prairies of North America.”

Flames warm the soil, reduce accumulated leaf litter, release nutrients and increase microbial activity.

“After a fire, blackened fields quickly revive with new, green grass and bright, colorful wildflowers,” Friday said. “It’s a remarkable transformation.”

The Fort Worth Fire Department was on scene to ensure the safety of participants. The FWFD wildland team has traveled nationally to respond to wildfires on the West Coast. The highly trained team used January’s prescribed burn as a way to educate the attending organizations on the role they play in wildland management and the importance of regulating and managing wildlife refuge locally.

FWBG-BRIT scientists will use plant and soil data to improve their understanding of prairie ecosystems. At the same time, the organization’s education experts will use photos and videos of the fire to create new teaching materials and programs.

“The burn creates a unique opportunity for students and teachers to view this incredible natural phenomenon through an environmental STEM lens,” Friday said. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Families can learn more by reading books about prairies. One recommended book for preschool and young elementary-age students is The Prairie That Nature Built by Marybeth Lorbiecki. Available from the Fort Worth Public Library, the book includes detailed drawings of the prairie ecosystem along with activities and resources for families.

“We think of fire as destructive. But fire can also renew the natural landscape,” Friday said. “The prescribed burn can help both children and adults understand that sometimes fire is part of a larger process that leads, ultimately, to new growth.”

The FWBG-BRIT prairie is at the corner of Trail Drive and University Drive.

 

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