The smoke floating above the University of Wisconsin Arboretum today signals that the prescribed fire season is underway at the Arboretum and Lakeshore Nature Preserve.
Both the Arboretum and the Preserve manage many acres of remnant and restored prairies, oak savannas, and woodlands — these native Wisconsin ecosystems require fire to remain healthy. Prescribed fire restores a natural process, stimulates native vegetation growth and seed production, improves wildlife habitat, and provides valuable training and research opportunities.
Prescribed fires are usually set in early spring (March through May) and sometimes in late fall. They are conducted within a strict set of parameters that include temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, and fuel conditions, among many others.
Before and during each burn, the fire manager checks that all current and expected parameters are within prescribed ranges to conduct a safe fire, have good smoke lift, and meet the land care goals. Prescribed fire crew members are trained in wildland fire management and use full protective clothing and equipment.
Many native prairies, savannas, and woodlands evolved to rely on fire for regeneration. Prescribed fires mimic natural ones, but take place under much more controlled conditions. Prescribed fires can also combat invasive plant species, while safely removing old and dry plant material to reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildfires.
Neither the Arboretum nor the Preserve is located within a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fire protection area. Both sites notify local officials before every fire is ignited and get permission from the City of Madison or the City of Fitchburg, depending on the location of the prescribed fire.
Smoke may be visible to visitors, neighbors and travelers on nearby roads. Visitors to the Arboretum and the Preserve might see posted signs alerting the public to burn activity and closed trails, or swaths of blackened areas after a burn.
The safety of crew and visitors is always a top priority. If you visit the Arboretum or Preserve during a fire, please follow these safety precautions:
- Always stay off trails and firebreaks that are closed for a prescribed fire, and do not go off trail.
- Keep a safe distance from smoke, flames and heat.
- Do not interfere with or obstruct the movement of crew, equipment, and vehicles.
- Do not distract a prescribed fire crew.
See the Arboretum’s Prescribed Fire Updates page for information throughout the season. You can also call the Visitor Center at (608) 263-7888, 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. weekdays or 12:30–4 p.m. weekends.
For more information about prescribed fire in the Preserve, call the Program Manager at (608) 265-9275, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. weekdays.