Prescribed Fire Season Underway at Bernheim Forest

By Evan Patrick

photo credit: Olmsted Parks Conservancy

During the late winter and early spring months, Bernheim visitors may notice clues of prescribed fire season at Bernheim Forest.  Blackened vegetation, the sight or smell of smoke, or the most obvious clue – flames and burn crews igniting controlled fires throughout habitats across the forest.  This season, the burn crew at Bernheim has successfully completed multiple prescribed fires and more are planned for the coming weeks.  Prairies, forested areas, and glades are being burned to improve wildlife habitat.

These habitats are adapted to fire and greatly benefit from this natural disturbance.  Depending on the season of the burn, fire promotes different types of native plants and improves habitat for wildlife.  A spring burn often promotes native warm-season grasses, and autumn burns often promote native flowers.  Fire is also helpful in reducing populations of young woody plants, which keeps prairie and glade habitats open for birds, small mammals, and insects.  Removing young woody plants with fire also allows for oak regeneration in woodland habitats.  Though it may seem counterintuitive, fire can also be beneficial by promoting invasive species.  Many invasive species thrive with fire. Once the seed bank is invigorated by fire, the invasive species germinate and the entire population can be targeted, treated, and removed.


photo credit: Olmsted Parks Conservancy

Removing standing, dormant vegetation can be beneficial to wildlife as well, in both the short and long term.  Visit a prairie site after a recent burn and it’s likely that you’ll observe a bird of prey hunting in the open habitat.  After several months of regrowth, that open habitat will be braided with tunnels and pathways carved through vegetation that provide great cover for mammals and birds.

Wildlife habitat is not the only thing experiencing new growth this burn season.  In an effort to increase capacity and acres enhanced by prescribed fire, Bernheim collaborated with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy to complete burns at Olmsted Parks, and within Bernheim.  Bernheim’s burn crew assisted with burns at Iroquois Park, and members from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s Natural Areas and Horticulture teams assisted with prairie and woodland burns at Bernheim.  This partnership allows two conservation organizations in the Louisville region to use the powerful tool of prescribed fire at greater capacities.  Thanks to the Olmsted team for contributing to the stewardship work done at Bernheim Forest.

photo credit: Olmsted Parks Conservancy


If you notice any of the clues of prescribed fire while visiting Bernheim, keep safety in mind.  Avoid smoky areas, do not enter burn units, and be mindful of any burn crew instructions or signage.  If viewing from a safe distance, however, take the opportunity to witness one of the most dramatic and spectacular tools in the stewardship toolbelt.

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