Habitat for Grassland Wildlife

From "Managing Michigan's Wildlife: A landowner's guide"

Prescribed burning is a very important management tool for maintaining and enhancing grasslands. Fire was an important natural part in the development and maintenance of grasslands, forests, and wetlands, throughout history. To many of us, fire is a feared enemy that destroys everything in its path. Because of this, the use of controlled fires, such as prescribed burning, is underutilized as a management tool for improving and maintaining habitats.

For thousands of years, tall grass prairies and open brushlands were kept free of trees by the occasional wildfires that cleared the landscape every two to 50 years. These fires were caused by lightning, or set intentionally by Native Americans. They had discovered that fire killed woody plants, but encouraged fruit bearing shrubs, and forage producing grasslands.

Present day research and experience have shown that prescribed burning can be an effective management tool. Prescribed burns are used most frequently to maintain and restore native grasslands. Prescribed burning can recycle nutrients tied up in old plant growth, control many woody plants and herbaceous weeds, improve poor quality forage, increase plant growth, reduce the risk of large wildfires, and improve certain wildlife habitat. To achieve the above benefits, fire must be used under very specific conditions, using very specific techniques.

Brushlands can be invigorated and maintained with fire to benefit species such as bluebirds and sharp-tailed grouse. Burning old fields controls saplings and woody vegetation, and improves grasslands for use by nesting wildlife and grazing livestock. Forest openings can be manipulated with burns to benefit more than 150 wildlife species. Upland nesting cover used by pheasants, waterfowl, and songbirds will remain productive if periodically burned. Cattails and sedges are returned to vigor by an occasional burn. Lastly, if you want more oaks in a hardwood stand, a fire will kill off less tolerant species such as maple, and basswood, allowing the oak to compete more successfully. Burning is also more cost-effective than other treatments like bulldozing, cutting, or chemicals.