Banner of field on fire with "Prescribed Burns" written across it

Prescribed Burns

Spring at Cincinnati Nature Center means lots of great things for our natural areas. It means the usual spring peepers, nesting birds, fawns, and buds on trees and flowers begin to emerge. This year though spring also means fire. Fire is not what most thinks of when they think about spring, but at the nature center it’s actually what we have been looking forward to all winter. The Center for Conservation has been preparing to conduct prescribed burns in our prairie habitats and, as soon as the weather conditions are right, we will be putting fire in them.

Prairie habitats in this region have adapted to fire and actually thrive after a burn. Prescribed burns reduce the number of woody growth in the prairie, control invasive plants, reduce the buildup of dead plant material which allows sunlight to reach the ground and makes it easier for animals to move around, stimulates native seed germination and recycles nutrients. Prescribed burning improves the quality of our prairie habitat. So, if you are out walking trails this spring keep an eye out for one of these fields!

Map of burn sites

Map of Burn Sites

The fields highlighted above are scheduled to be burned periodically throughout the spring months in 2018. On burn dates, trail closures will occur for a short amount of time. 

Fields at Rowe Woods that are scheduled to be burned this spring include:

  1. Lookout Fields
  2. Whitetail Trace Prairie
  3. Redwing Field

Prescribed Burns FAQs

What is a prescribed burn? 

Prescribed burning is the thoughtful and skillful application of fire to a specific site under selected weather conditions to accomplish specific land management objectives. The principle of prescribed burning is that fire is a natural component of ecosystems. 

Why are prescribed burns utilized as a management tool?

The Center for Conservation’s goal is to “encourage native plant and animal diversity by improving the quality of our prairie habitat.” Utilizing prescribed burns to reach this goal is a safe and cost effective tool when properly planned and implemented.

Prescribed burns:

  • Reduce the amount of woody growth in prairie habitat.
  • Control invasive plants. Invasive plants have shallower root systems; they are less adapted to fire.
  • Reduce thatch layer accumulation. Thatch, a buildup of dead plant material, prevents sunlight from penetrating to the ground and inhibits animal mobility. After burning, plants vigorously sprout.
  • Stimulate native seed germination. Black earth warms up faster in early spring, giving seedlings a jump start on the growing season.
  • Recycle nutrients. Char is great fertilizer for plants.

When is prescribed burning done and how often?

The Nature Center will conduct prescribed burns in the early spring and late fall. These two “burn seasons” occur during the months of February through April, November and December respectively. Burns must be conducted only when weather and field conditions allow. Often times, the decision to burn or not burn is made in a matter of hours or minutes based on these conditions. How often we burn a particular field depends on our land management objectives. Most of our prairies will be burned on a 3-year rotation.

What sort of training does a “burn manager” undergo?

A burn manager must complete the Ohio Certified Prescribed Fire Manager course offered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Forestry. One of the prerequisites to apply for the course is to have direct experience on a minimum of ten prescribed burns. After completing the course you will receive your certification. For more information visit the Ohio DNR website.

How do fire crews stay safe during prescribed burns?

Our fire crews attend a training workshop that prepares them for what to expect on the day of a prescribed burn. For the actual burn our crews wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as a Nomex suit, leather boots, a helmet with face shield and gloves. They need to wear natural materials under the suit, goggles, and a respirator as well. A pre-burn safety briefing occurs before we put fire on the ground and weather conditions are checked regularly.

How do plants and animals cope with fire?

Our native plants and animals have adapted with fire as part of the ecosystem.

Animals in these habitats often flee from the area or burrow into the ground as fire passes through it. Our native prairie plants have deep root systems that allow them to regenerate after a fire.

Cincinnati Nature Center volunteers will also be walking each field right before a prescribed burn to flush out wildlife.

What happens if you don’t burn fields? 

If we do not burn, trees and shrubs, as well as, invasive species move into prairie habitats and crowd out native wildflowers and grasses. Utilizing fire is the most ecologically appropriate and cost effective management technique to improve the quality of the habitat and control such invaders.

Why are some areas burned, while others are not?

As part of our management plan some of our fields are left unburned so that wildlife can move from a burned field to an unburned field for food and shelter. Certain animal species prefer fields of different ages or stages. Burning in a rotation allows for multiple stages to occur at the Nature Center at any one time. This follows nationally recognized best management practices regarding prescribed prairie burns.

Will you be performing prescribed burns at Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm & Trails?

We have prairies planted at both Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm and Trails; therefore we will be burning at both locations. Over the next several years we will continue to plant prairie habitat and manage them with prescribed fire.

 Will you be seeding the fields after a prescribed burn?

The prairies we are burning have previously been seeded with native wildflowers and grasses. Burning these areas will continue to stimulate the germination of these native seeds. In some cases, Nature Center staff may choose to overseed and/or transplant certain species into the fields after a burn to reach specific management objectives.

Should I burn on my own property?

Prescribed burns must be performed by an Ohio Certified Prescribed Burn Manager. During burn ban months (March, April, May, October and November) only with the permission of the Chief of the Division of Forestry are prescribed fires to be conducted. Depending on what your objective for your own property is will depend if you should burn your land.

How can I get involved?

Staff and volunteers must attend a formal training in order to be invited to an actual burn. Formal trainings will occur once a year or as needed. For more information or if you have further questions contact Olivia Espinoza, Natural Areas Coordinator, at (513) 831-1711 ext. 304 or