Prescribed burns OK'd at WMU's two nature preserves

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A combined 20 acres of land in two Western Michigan University nature preserves in Kalamazoo could be burned soon if weather conditions allow.

The Kalamazoo fire marshal approved a burn permit for March 1 through April 30 in both the Asylum Lake and Kleinstuck preserves. Plans call for up to 18 acres of prairie in the Asylum Lake Preserve to be burned along Parkview Avenue between Drake Road and the entrance to WMU's Gibbs House. In addition, 2.2 acres of wetland with scattered buckthorn brush piles in the Kleinstuck Preserve are to be burned near the corner of Chevy Chase Boulevard and Edgemoor Avenue.

Prescribed burns are fires that are intentionally set and carefully managed. They are periodically necessary to maintain and promote the health of native vegetation. If weather conditions are not conducive for a burn yet this spring semester, the next window of opportunity will be this coming fall in mid-October to mid-November.

Fire's importance

A clearing in the woods with workers in yellow shirts standing next to burning piles of brush.

Workers carefully monitor brush piles in Kleinstuck.

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."

Since 2000, small parcels were intentionally burned in the 274-acre Asylum Lake Preserve in 2003, 2005, 2007 and in the 48-acre Kleinstuck Preserve in 2013 and 2014. Other scheduled burns, including those for the past three years, were canceled because the necessary conditions failed to materialize.

Prescribed burn process

Burns are done with the cooperation and approval of all necessary local jurisdictions, and in the case of the Asylum Lake Preserve, the cooperation of the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council. Neighbors are notified.

As in the past, this year's burns 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.

The burns will be managed by the prescribed burn crew "Restoring Nature with Fire," owned and operated by Dave Borneman LLC out of Ann Arbor.

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

To learn more about the Asylum Lake Preserve, visit To learn more about the Kleinstuck Preserve, visit

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