Prescription fire maintains the health of rich natural areas

Using fire to preserve dune and swale


Staff at ArcelorMittal Global Research and Development Center supervised a “prescription fire” to manage ten acres of globally rare dune and swale habitat on its East Chicago, Indiana campus.     

In the spring of 2013, ArcelorMittal Global R&D, in partnership with The Field Museum and The Nature Conservancy, launched an exciting project to restore ten acres of globally rare dune and swale habitat on its East Chicago, Indiana campus.  

Dune and swale is a unique type of natural habitat. It can be found along the southern rim of Lake Michigan and was created when glacial Lake Chicago (the precursor to Lake Michigan) receded thousands of years ago.

Museum ecologists noted the site’s unique topography, undisturbed sandy soils and a few native plants growing in the rougher areas of the site. These were all clues that something very special lay beneath the mowed field. These suspicions were confirmed when mowing of the area ceased and thousands of native plants emerged.  

Inventories of the ArcelorMittal site have documented more than fifty species of plants, including a state-endangered species and two state-threatened species, all of which are being monitored.  

The site requires ongoing management to restore plant diversity, manage invasive species and help maintain the health of rich natural areas. One technique used to for this is a prescription burn or fire.  

“Fire was a natural occurrence in wetlands, woodlands, prairies and dune and swale habitat until recent times,” said Laura Milkert, ecological stewardship manager, Keller Science Action Center Science and Education, The Field Museum. “Prescription fire is now a key component to restoration.”  

Setting fire
Conservation Land Stewardship in partnership with The Field Museum recently set a prescription fire at R&D. Prescription fires are part of a national effort to identify, restore, protect and connect over 1.4 million acres of natural areas across the United States.  

“The City of East Chicago Fire Department was involved in the planning stages,” said Matt Bartz, technical procurement and process research, ArcelorMittal R&D. “They were onsite to ensure a safe burn. And because we’re located directly next to a school, the school board president was also engaged in the planning discussions.”

Bartz coordinates the student visits to the dune and swale as part of the Mighty Acorns® program funded by ArcelorMittal. The Mighty Acorns program incorporates classroom curriculum, hands on restoration activities and exploration as it seeks to provide students with multiple and meaningful interactions with the outdoors. 

“Students are using our land to learn about dunes and swale, which is very rare. There are very few left in the world,” said Bartz. “This habitat can never be replaced, its value is immeasurable.”  

A walking trail was established along the perimeter of the property to encourage employees to walk for health. The trail also provides an opportunity to see the beautiful dune and swale site.  

Photos courtesy of Susan Kirt Alterio. View the full ArcelorMittal Prescribed Burn photo gallery >

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