Controlled burns in Lake County forest preserves

controlled-burn-wright-woods-2In northern Illinois, the Lake County Forest Preserve District has been cleaning house.

They are one of the fanciest local forest preserve districts, nothing like as big as Cook County, but with a very nice budget, thank you, and many very cool projects for supporting our incredibly lush northern Illinois ecosystem.

Today my husband and I took a walk in Wright Woods and discovered that the controlled burn program has begun there.

The forest floor is blackened for many acres, but the burned areas are weirdly contained, with the fire’s footprints sometimes following a track as narrow as a pair of horses might make with their hooves.

controlled-burn-wright-woods-1Here and there a fallen tree trunk has caught fire and remains on fire, days after the original burn took place.

The air is full of the pungent smell of wet burned wood and the sweeter odor of burned leaves.

The whole woods looks as if someone realized their in-laws were coming for Thanksgiving, ran madly about, picked up all the random litter off the floor and tidied it away.

Or, in this case, burned it.

controlled-burn-wright-woods-4I realize that this is simply man’s scientific and excruciatingly careful attempt to copy the wildfires caused by lightning before white settlers came to the area.

Native Americans were doing controlled burns of their own for centuries before Lake County got their program going.

LCFPD even has a fancy website with maps showing where and when the burns cause closures of various trails

But it looks really weird.

And like most things about this planet, the smell makes you realize the sheer size of nature, the immense number of living things surrounding us, and the power of an element like fire to transform.




Controlled burns in Lake County forest preserves — 1 Comment

  1. About 30 years ago wild fire ravaged Yellowstone National Park. I knew some of the rangers at Ft Vancouver National Historic Site (Nat’l Park Service). They kept up the fire fighting creds for the extra pay, never expecting to get drafted. Then Yellowstone ignited.

    One of the rangers told me later that if the park hadn’t burned that year they would have had to burn it the next to control disease and pests. Also the lodgepole pines only release their seed cones under the intense heat of a fire. New trees to replace the old.

    Pacific NW tribes regularly burned patches of forest because among the first plants to revive were huckleberries. The sweet fruit was a huge part of their diet and rituals.

    Burning is a natural part of the life cycle of a forest.