Fall Fire for Effective Management: Is There a Seasonal Affective Disorder in Prescribed Fire?

Over the years, I have noticed several intriguing responses in natural communities to seasonal variations in prescribed fire. I've discussed this issue with many folks, have initiated several interesting, though largely unsatisfying, email strings on the subject and wrote an essay on the subject in a recent Missouri Natural Areas Newsletter. Through this process, I have found that the increasing utilization of spring burning, as opposed to the more historically relevant application of autumnal anthropogenic burning, is primarily driven by convenience rather than ecological soundness. And, that the assumptions underlying the prescription of spring fire (that either spring fire is harmless or that it is at least better than no fire at all) are potentially more wishful than accurate. Having observed significant losses in plant diversity and subsequent increases in weedy shrubs like sumac and blackberries in areas where spring fire has reigned supreme, my concern has only grown. Steve…


There are so many questions in field ecology. And there are those of us that obsess over the answers. We obsess because the questions gnaw at our psyches, needle the tender pink concavities of our brains, and boil up hot lava plumes of dissatisfaction as we dig deeper into the pleasure of nature study. They haunt us the way any puzzle haunts any person, only amplified. Instead of a word jumble over morning coffee, field ecologists face vast expanses of dead and living landscapes that have been scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped and topped (not unlike Waffle House hash browns) across millions of years of ecological transition and evolutionary time. They have cooked into a steamy stew of wondrously bewildering patterns, pseudopatterns, and near trends. Good field ecologists savor their thick saucy sweetness.
Science, as a social function, thrives on questions. It is a progressive endeavor. In my estimation, the best field ecologists are those thirsty with qu…

The Elymus of Imagination

Elymus is a wonderful genus of grass to study. Most of its members exhibit beautifully complex breeding systems that challenge, stretch and contort what would otherwise be our oversimplified and redundant definitions of species. Those interested in how and why such breeding systems emerge again and again from the natural interface of organisms and the environment are encouraged to read "Plant Speciation" by Verne Grant. It's an older reference, but it is still relevant and is far from outdated.

You know how in the movie, based on the Stephen King book, "Christine" the nerd slash soon-to-be vigilante hears the car he loves telling him that it can repair itself after the jocks trashed it and pooped on the dashboard? How he says "okay.... show me." and then the headlights come on with eerily piercing music? I feel like that when I find an Elymus in the field. My heart races faster and I breathe deeper, like something out of the ordinary is going to happe…