Prescribed Burns

Parks Operations & Development has two very important roles when it comes to managing 600 acres. Landscape Stewardship and Landscape Maintenance. So what's the difference?

Landscape Maintenance: can be described as the processes taken to mechanically create an environment that is otherwise not naturally occurring. It is generally accepted that every lawn is mowed to a height of 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 inches and that trees and shrubs are trimmed to a uniform shape and size. What is not always considered is that those characteristics are not the natural size, shape, and height that grass, trees and shrubs grow to, but something that is manipulated to create a formal landscape.

Landscape Stewardship: can be defined as the routine actions that are taken to sustain the aesthetic and ecological integrity of a natural or native landscape. It is maintaining property in a manner that allows for natural and native plants to thrive. Once a natural area is created, restored, or enhanced, it must receive proper stewardship in order to thrive. If a natural area is not stewarded it will become overgrown with invasive and weedy species, which is detrimental to ecological integrity and will be aesthetically displeasing. The Stewardship process involves monitoring the vegetation and reacting to changes as they occur over a period of time. Natural areas tend to change over time and need to be monitored to recognize these changes and adapt strategies accordingly.

Stewardship Methods

Mechanical and Chemical Removal
The process of physically cutting, mowing, or brush cutting prairie grasses, invasive species and woody growth multiple times each year coupled with the use of herbicides to control the spread of invasive plants. This method typically includes more staff time, specialized equipment, and the ongoing use of herbicides to control invasive growth.

Prescribed Fire
A prescribed fire is the most widely accepted and cost effective method of natural area stewardship, as it continues the necessary process that nature started thousands of years ago. Once prairie areas become established, the site requires only a minimal amount of care. The mature prairie plants prevent many weeds from becoming established.

Prescribed fire protects wildlife by helping to maintain their prairie habitat by reducing thatch, weeds, and vegetation, and is a natural method to control invasive plant species. Fire releases nutrients back to the soil to stimulate the growth of native plants and increases plant and animal diversity. Controlled fire also reduces undesirable woody growth and reduces the chance of deadly wildfires.

Who does the burning?
Each burn is supervised by a burn boss that has extensive practical experience conducting prescribed burns. The Park District has two burn managers on staff that are certified in the S130/S190 sections for Wildland fire training and are equipped with proper clothing and equipment that meet the National Wildfire Coordination Group (NWCG) standards.

A Burn plan is developed that addresses the specific preparations for the site including:

  • Existing site conditions
  • Site ecology
  • Time of year
  • Wind direction
  • Relative humidity
  • Estimated number of crew members and equipment required to execute the fire safely and effectively.

Are Permits issued?
All prescribed fires are conducted with permits from the state Environmental Protection Agency divisions and the local fire department.

  • Illinois EPA
  • Village of Downers Grove Fire Department

Who else is notified?
Local fire and police departments are contacted prior to, during, and after the fire. Written notification is sent to property owners adjacent to the burn site.

How often should an area be burned?
After a prairie area is planted and begins to establish, a burn should be conducted when volumes of combustible fuels are available. Each site will develop at various rates. On average it takes approximately 3 years to develop enough fuel to conduct a successful prescribed burn. Following the establishment period, prescribed burns should take place on an alternating year schedule to successfully maintain the prairie.

What precautions are taken?
Although prescribed burning is an excellent management tool, by its own nature, it is potentially dangerous.

  • Fire breaks are established prior to the burn day.
  • 4 to 8 foot wide fire breaks are mowed, raked, or plowed around the burn area, and are established prior to the burn day to contain the prescribed burn.
  • Natural (creeks) and artificial firebreaks (roads, ditches, or ponds) are also utilized to contain the fire.
  • Extra water is on hand for fire pumps.
  • Backfires (a fire that burns into the prevailing winds) and strip burning (lighting smaller strip areas to reduce excess smoke production) provide better management of the fire and increase the width of fire breaks, thereby reducing the possibility of crossing the fire lane.

What weather conditions are recommended for prescribed burns?
Illinois DNR recommends that "prescribed" burns be conducted between October 1 and April 30.Wind velocities between 5-15 mph. Temperatures should be between 30 - 60 degrees F. Relative Humidity between 25% - 50%

Prescribed Burns

Prescribed burning is a land management tool that maintains the health of prairies and oak woods. Non-native and invasive plants are typically killed by fire, while the desirable native species of plants survive. Native plants, adapted to regular burning, not only survive periodic fires but benefit from them. In addition to controlling non-native and invasive plants, controlled burning reduces dead vegetation build-up, recycles nutrients back to the soil, and promotes the regeneration and germination of native plants and seeds.

Streambank Stabilization

The Lacey Creek headwaters and wetlands located within Lyman Woods are valuable resources that provide aquatic habitat, storm water storage, passive recreational opportunities, protected open space and many other benefits for the Downers Grove community and the DuPage River watershed. Lyman Woods receives storm water runoff from surrounding office, retail and residential areas. As the surrounding development increased over the years, heavy storm water flows severely eroded stream banks, deposited soil and pollutants into existing wetlands, and reduced water quality within the Lacey Creek Watershed.

To address these issues and improve and protect the water quality of Lacey Creek, the Lyman Woods Streambank Stabilization Project was implemented in 2004. Utilizing bioengineering solutions such as vegetated geolifts, rock riffles and stepped pools on more than 5,700 linear feet of stream, the project captures, stores and filters stormwater prior to discharge into two Lacey Creek tributaries.

Additionally, the project restored and protected over 70 acres of woods adjacent to the streams. Restoration efforts have included removal of invasive woody plant species followed by seeding and planting of native vegetation in degraded areas. With completion of woodland restoration, the Park District has engaged in long-term maintenance and monitoring of these areas to ensure success of the restoration efforts.

The Lyman Woods Streambank Stabilization Project was completed in 2009 and was supported by partnerships with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, the DuPage County Water Quality Improvement program, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Invasive Species Management

Non-native and invasive species are a ubiquitous threat to natural areas. These organisms have been introduced from other parts of the world and, without their natural competitors or diseases, can out-compete native species for resources. Invasive plants can rapidly take over a natural area and form a monoculture, eliminating native plants entirely while non-native animals can quickly multiply and devastate a natural area.

Invasive non-native plant species are controlled through several measures including hand-pulling, cutting, mowing and selective herbiciding. Herbaceous weeds like garlic mustard are hand-pulled and removed from natural areas, while invasive brush, like honeysuckle and buckthorn, are cut and spot-treated with herbicide. Each fall, volunteers collect, clean and sort native plant seed, which is then sown in restoration areas recently cleared of invasive and non-native plants.

Non-native and invasive animal species populations are monitored and managed. For example, during the winter, gypsy moth egg masses are counted and sprayed with an oil-based solution that prevents hatching. As new invaders are identified every year, the Downers Grove Park District is constantly evaluating management efforts and adjusting to new threats.

Natural Grazing

Each year goats and sheep graze natural areas maintained by the Downers Grove Park District.

The District has contracts this service with Vegetation Solutions, a Wisconsin-based green business focused on vegetation management through controlled grazing. The herd eats a variety of plants including common buckthorn, honeysuckle, roses, spotted knapweed, Queen Anne's lace and even poison ivy. During their visit, the animals will clear approximately 6 feet of browse line reducing the growth height. Clearing the invasive species will allow favorable plants to grow in these areas.

The livestock are kept in their paddock by a low-voltage electric fence. The District asks for visitors to keep themselves and leashed dogs away from the fence during this time. Keep in mind that the goats are working during their visit--please look, but don't touch.