Illinois ecosystems evolved with fire being a major force on the landscape. The native plants that grow in Boone County have come to rely on fire for regeneration and elimination of competition. Boone County’s native habitats are dominated by grasses, forbs, Oak, and Hickory. The native grasses and forbs have growth points underground, insulated from the intensity of fire (soil is a very good insulator). As for the trees, they use their thick bark to insulate from the fire.
Since settlement, around the year 1835, numerous plants have been brought to North American from Eurasia. These plants have few natural predators and can be very aggressive. Fire is a tool that can help control these species. Today, land managers use fire to maintain the remnant habitat that is left and untouched by settlement. Fire is also being used in natural areas that have been recreated and restored.
Before European settlers divided up the landscape with settlements, roads, and agriculture; fires started naturally. These fires usually started in the fall with lightning strikes. Native Americans also intentionally lite fires for numerous reason. They noticed that large herbivores were drawn to the burned areas the following growing season. This made hunting very efficient. These areas were also easier to travel through which made gathering of food and herbs more effective.
With the urbanization of our county, state, and nation, fire has become a liability and a hazard. Because of this, fire as a tool must be used carefully and with respect. One of the biggest concerns for land managers using fire, is smoke management. BCCD staff is well trained and has equipment more than adequate for controlling fire. However, we have little control of where the smoke goes. We rely heavily on weather forecast and wind direction to control the path of smoke, using due diligence to avoid putting smoke in urban and residential areas. Wind shifts and unforeseen changes in weather are always a concern and are monitored throughout a planned controlled burn.