At the Crossroads of Science and Fire

by Nick Grybauskas

This year, The Nature Conservancy is hosting a Fire Strike Team to advance priorities set by the Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council’s Partnership Collaboration Subcommittee. Specifically, the team—which is supported by the Conservancy and other conservation partners—is charged with implementing prescribed fire throughout the state.

Kentucky Fire Strike Team (The Nature Conservancy)
Kentucky Fire Strike Team © The Nature Conservancy

The idea is that all of the partners involved have responsibility for sites that require fire management. However, each individual partner lacks the manpower required to mobilize a burn crew every time weather and other conditions are ideal for doing so. Sharing resources to support a team like this makes it possible for everyone to accomplish their goals.

I’ve fought a lot of wildland fire in the past. However, this experience—working on a Burn Crew with the Conservancy—has been something new entirely.

I mean, it’s the same equipment, engines, hoses, hand tools and drip torches. However, what is truly unique is the extent to which science is being used to employ fire to benefit nature. In addition to my Fire Strike Team members, I am working alongside ecologists and biologists from around the state.

Shaun Gerber and Preston Foote conducting a prescribed fire in the grasslands of western Kentucky
Kentucky’s Fire Strike Team hits the ground burning. © The Nature Conservancy

These land and natural resource managers really have their eye on how to protect these special nature preserves. And the timing is right because Kentucky is losing much of its native grassland and prairies. That is because, since modern man came to town, the natural fires that once swept the state—keeping the maple trees at bay and allowing for the buffalo to roam—have now all but stopped completely.

Fire (Brunjes)
Prescribed fire restores native habitat in Kentucky. © The Nature Conservancy

It’s a beautiful thing to see the work that these partners have accomplished in the name of restoring these incredible native ecosystems. Picture it: native grasses located at some of Kentucky’s big barrens, interspersed with wildflowers, stretching out as far as the eye can see. Large, ancient oak trees speckling the landscape, stretching their bows out over the land as birds, foxes and deer poke in and out of the grassland while hawks circle up above.

I’m not making this up. We’re literally restoring these landscapes and it’s working out great! I’m really excited to be a part of this.

Learn more about the daily adventures of the Fire Strike Team and the long-term goals of the Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council, a major partner in this effort.

We also invite you to support this and other efforts to conserve Kentucky nature.