What do you do to preserve plants and natural areas in Ohio?
My job is two-fold: it includes law enforcement and eco-management at several state nature preserves in northwest Ohio. Once a natural area is dedicated as a state nature preserve, someone needs to protect it. So I have the same powers as a police officer. I can fine people for littering and I enforce rules that people must follow when visiting a preserve. Here's the list of rules and regulations. I also try to make sure that visitors have an enjoyable and educational experience when visiting a preserve.
I spend a lot of time fighting invasive plant species, particularly at Irwin Prairie. The most troublesome invasive species has been glossy buckthorn. We have used various methods to eliminate this hardy plant including cutting down the bushes, spraying them with herbicides and burning them. We conduct controlled burns about every three years. Native prairie plants thrive with fire: the ash provides fertilizer; fire warms the ground promoting seed germination and burning removes invasive plants that can't tolerate fire, such as the buckthorn.
How do you conduct a controlled burn?
First I consult with my colleagues at the division to plan which areas will be burned. We conduct prescribed burns in late winter and early spring when the seeds of native prairie plants have fallen and are protected in the ground. The top picture shows a pre-burn area at Irwin Prairie. Before initiating a burn, we establish firebreaks around the area so the fire will not spread. We do this by mowing very close to the ground around the perimeter or by blowing away leaves and removing other dry material. Sometimes we bulldoze larger plants around the perimeter. We start the fire with a drip-torch, containing part diesel fuel and part gasoline, which sprays fire on the ground. Someone is always nearby with a wet line to put out the fire if it spreads beyond the perimeter.
Why spend so much time and effort managing a prairie?
Prairies are really outdoor museums showing us what Ohio was like when the Indians were here and when the early pioneers first came to this land. They provide habitat for rare plant and animal species. And prairies, in particular, provide pleasing open space with dashes of bright color in summer. This is why the dedication of preserves includes restrictions on development, such as building roads or logging. But we must also actively manage them to preserve conservation-reliant species.