Environment
2:58 pm
Mon March 4, 2013

Controlled Burn Will Help Create Prairie From the Past

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is turning a piece of land on campus into a prairie from the past.

Biology students at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro will use the Piedmont Prairie to conduct experiments.
Credit Elizabeth Lacey / UNCG

The idea for a Piedmont Prairie in Guilford County began in fall 2011. A group of conservation biology students at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro presented a proposal to environmental officials at the school to establish a prairie on campus.

The site is about a third of the size of a football field and is located near walking trails. Elizabeth Lacey, a biology professor at UNCG who is heading up the project, says “The primary goal of establishing the prairie is for educational purposes, to educate students about this ecosystem and why it is important to maintain biodiversity. The prairie will also provide opportunities for students to conduct experiments.”

The Piedmont Prairie in the Carolinas was first described by early European explorers. They were open fields that the Native American Indians maintained by periodic burning. The burning process opened up sites for agriculture and hunting.   But over the years, many of these sites have been lost to urban development and bans on burning. Rare plant species like the Schweinitz’s sunflower have also been lost as the prairies disappeared.

“The burning process itself helps to release nutrients from the shoots, the above ground vegetation which is sitting on top of the soil. Also some species require a burn in order for the seeds to germinate,” says Lacey.

Dr. Ken Bridle, with the Piedmont Land Conservancy will conduct the controlled burn at UNCG. Lacey says the process will take place once a year and will take three years to fully develop. If weather conditions are right, the burn at UNCG will take place Tuesday, March 5.

UNCG biology professor explains how the Piedmont Prairie will be created through a controlled burn.