The first stage of the restoration process occurred in December 2006 when most of the trees in the area, except some oaks and a few other species common in oak savannas, were cut down. The controlled burn was considered the second stage. The final stages will be application of herbicide to control unwanted growth and the planting of native prairie species.
Assisting with the project is Prairie Restorations, Inc. (PRI), from Princeton, Minn. The company has designed, restored and managed prairies, wetland, woodland and other native plant communities for more than 25 years. In 2006 alone, their crews completed approximately 200 controlled burns, totaling more than 3000 acres.
The Coon Rapids Campus natural area is used as an outdoor classroom for ARCC biology students. Controlled burns will be performed periodically at this site in future years to maintain the prairie.
More About Native Prairies and Controlled Burns
According to ARCC Biology Faculty Member, Joan McKearnan, less than one percent of Minnesota's original prairie remains today but chunks of land are being converted back into native grasslands, and fires are an integral part of that conversion.
"Fire suppression and agriculture contributed greatly to the loss of prairie habitat," McKearnan continues. "Fire was an occasional, natural phenomenon before European settlement. Fire helped to rid prairies of woody vegetation, stimulate seed production and recycle nutrients. Fires were either naturally ignited by lightning or set by Native Americans wanting to enhance habitat for their main food item-bison. During European settlement, fertile prairies were cultivated and, what wasn't plowed, succeeded to forests due to fire suppression and removal of bison which had also helped maintained the prairies. Today, fire is used as a vital tool in the restoration and maintenance of prairies. They are typically performed in early spring or late fall when the vegetation is of proper moisture level."
The college's Cambridge Campus also has a native area complete with walking paths for community residents to enjoy. For more information visit http://webs.anokaramsey.edu/prairie/.
For further information, please contact Prairie Restorations, Inc. at 763-389-4342 or Anoka-Ramsey Community College at 763-433-1100.