The Bluff Creek State Natural Area is a jewel in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit. The rolling moraines, deep kettles, massive oaks and bubbling springs that source Bluff Creek, make this one of the most beautiful areas in southeastern Wisconsin.
The DNR’s SNA team has been prepping the east side of the Bluff Creek property for months creating clean, wide firebreaks all around the burn unit, which is no easy task on the steep moraines. This would be the second time they burned the area and everyone was anxious to get it done. Last Saturday I spent the day there with Zach, Ginny, Don, Jerry and Brandon raking the areas around dead snags and taking down some really punky ones that might have fallen across the firebreak. We worked along the eastern perimeter of the 454 acre burn unit between A and K on the map below.
Zach and Brandon reviewing the situation.
A monster dead oak that we cleared around.
I stopped at Bald Bluff on the way home hoping I would get an invite to come back the next day for the burn.
I forgot my phone and, sure enough, when I got home, there was a message from Jared inviting me to join their crew to Burn Bluff Creek East. Cool!
The team from the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation included: Burn Boss Matt Zine, Nate Fayram and Jared Urban the north and south line bosses respectively and Jessica Renley, Alex Wenthe, Adam Stone and Bridget Rathman. Paul Sandgren, Matt Wilhelm, Don Dane, and Dennis Mclain represented the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit. Greg Kidd and Erin Holmes, volunteering their time, represented the NRCS (Erin also works with Pheasants Forever). And, last but not least, Bill Walz, an SNA volunteer who also works with The Prairie Enthusiasts was there.
Greg gearing up.
Alex, Greg and Matt.
Matt Zine explains the burn plan.
It was a pleasure to hang out with the “pros” and be one of the team. Matt Zine attributes much of their success developing the SNA’s in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit to Paul Sandgren’s leadership and commitment. A lot of thought and effort went into planning this day — bringing the people and equipment together — and the conditions were perfect for a woodland burn!
Per the plan, we began anchoring the unit on the line between points B and A.
Then the south line team began lighting a backing fire from A to L while the north line team did the same moving west from B to D.
The steep moraines were not for the fainthearted to drive an ATV up and down on, and the wetlands on the northern perimeter had some deep, water filled trenches to negotiate. I was really impressed with the fortitude and level of effort and cooperation amongst everyone involved. They carried out the plan without a hitch!
This classic kettle required a bit of extra effort to carry fire through it.
David Bart, Assistant Professor Landscape Architecture and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies UW-Madison, contributed the next 5 pics showing the north line team in action.
Bill and I got “released” around 6:30pm and I quickly changed clothes and headed back to the burn unit to get some more pics.
A happy Matt and Erin.
I was eager to see the blackened kettles and moraines along the line from A to L.
Then I headed west from point A and decided to try to walk the perimeter of the burn unit.
I was blown away when I saw how difficult it must have been to lay down the backing fire on the north line. Here are a couple views of the wetlands Nate, Jess and Adam lit up.
You could see lines of fire still creeping through the center of the unit.
I threaded my way through the black and brush until I came to the big open water where all the springs collect forming Bluff Creek.
There are dozens of springs flowing into the headwaters.
It’s a good thing I had walked this area once before on an SNA workday at Lone Tree Bluff and knew where I was. I had no problem picking my way through these creeping fires on the trail leading back to the parking lot on Easterly Road.
I found my way in the dark back along the firebreak at point J and came all the way around the south end of the burn unit back to point A. And reminiscent of last year’s Scuppernong Burn, I ran into Don Dane, just beginning his all-night vigil at the burn unit.
The new Statewide Prescribed Burning Guidelines require that all burning and smoking wood on “the entire burn” be extinguished before the burn can be declared “controlled”. Don watched the fires throughout the night and the SNA team returned today to complete the mop up. It is hoped that the guidelines can be amended to acknowledge the low level of risk that smoldering logs pose in the middle of a huge burn unit. It is hard and complicated enough as it is for the DNR to effectively use fire to help manage the forests.
See you at The Springs!