Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 5, 2013

Fire used to enhance GC prairies

By SAM HOUSEHOLDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— GOSHEN — The smoke coming from Goshen College campus Thursday afternoon was nothing to be alarmed about, it was all under control.

Several Goshen College environmental science students took part in the first on-campus controlled burn of native prairie landscape that the college established in recent years, Ryan Sensenig, associate professor of biology and director of environmental science, said.

“Several years ago the campus decided to turn lawn grass into tall grass prairie as a wildlife habitat and (to) reduce mowing,” he said. “Aesthetically it adds flowering plants throughout the summer.”

According to Sensenig, the fire in the spring is used to kill off cold-season grasses that are not native to the prairie landscape and it helps the native ones, which grow in the summer’s warmer months, to thrive.

“Early on in a prairie establishment you need to use fire,” he said. “So we’ll probably end up burning these prairies every three years once they get established.”

Sensenig said that if a prairie landscape is not burned, it will eventually become a forest.

For students, it gives them a chance to have a positive impact on the environment.

“Part of the big picture idea is to counter this idea that humans only negatively effect the planet,” Sensenig said. “So we’re in a time period in history where restoration ecology is a very, very important movement and students need to be able to experience what it’s like to actively engage land in a positive way and see the positive results of it.”

Members of the Goshen City Fire Department were on hand to lend support and to assist were a fire to get out of control.

Students and staff started the controlled burn using a gasoline-diesel mixture and contained the blazes using water-filled backpack sprayers to keep the fire contained to the prairie areas.