Every spring and fall, field crew members perform prescribed burns to restore and maintain natural prairies and oak savannas. Burning cleans up the area, returns nutrients to the soil and helps control invasive plants. Corps members generally find the work interesting and a nice change of pace from spring field work such as clearing brush.
Spring is the peak season for prescribed burns, typically mid-April through the end of May, after the snow has melted and the previous year’s growth is still dry. During a typical spring, almost all central and southern Minnesota crew members will spend time on prescribed burning and some will also work on fall burns, which take place after the first couple hard frosts. How much burning happens in a season is weather-dependent, as precipitation and wind can create unfavorable conditions for managing fire. While this year’s late spring delayed the start of the burn season, it quickly picked up and met or exceeded previous years’ acreage.
All field crew members are trained to work with fire. After successfully completing classroom and physical testing, they are “red-carded” and certified to work on prescribed burns and wildland fires. Prescribed burns are directed by a “burn boss” who draws up plans and gets needed permits. Conservation Corps Minnesota has its own burn boss, Dustin Looman, based in Rochester. Prescribed burns in other areas are directed by the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service staff as part of their land management plans.