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Fish and Wildlife plans prescribed burns at Rydell and Glacial Ridge national wildlife refuges

The prescribed burns on state and federal lands help maintain critical habitats for both game and nongame species in northwest Minnesota.

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Prescribed fire, such as the burn being conducted in this undated photo, is one of the tools natural resources managers use to enhance wildlife habitat.
Contributed / Emily Zins, Minnesota DNR


ERSKINE, Minn. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners will be conducting prescribed burns this spring at Rydell and Glacial Ridge national wildlife refuges and other sites across northwest Minnesota.

The carefully planned prescribed burns the FWS and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conduct on state and federal lands are needed to maintain critical habitats for both game and nongame species found in northwest Minnesota, the Service said in a news release.

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The historic wildfires that occurred during the spring and summer of 2021 across northwest Minnesota served to increase the emphasis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducting prescribed fires in an effort to keep the accumulation of grass, brush and trees down to a manageable level across the landscape. Land managers and firefighters use prescribed fire as a fuel reduction tool. Wildland firefighters often reference this as, “We combat bad fire (wildfire) with good fire (prescribed burns).”

On the other side of the prescribed fire management tool are the species for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages its lands. Fire removes dry, dead plant matter that has built up over the years, opening up space for new plant growth and providing better cover for wildlife. The burning also recycles important nutrients that are locked up in dead plant matter, returning them to the soil where they can be used by growing plants.

At the 23,000-acre Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in northern Polk County, some of the target species are ground-nesting grassland birds such as ducks, prairie chickens, upland sandpipers, bobolinks and meadowlarks. All of these birds require grass of different heights and thickness and varying amounts of “thatch” layers – a buildup of previous years’ grasses – to build their nests. Because of the mosaic of grasslands that Glacial Ridge’s diverse bird community requires, refuge staff utilize various types of land management tools: haying some areas to create short grasses, burning to remove thatch layers and create short grass during nesting season, and grazing to achieve similar results.

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Another benefit of conducting prescribed fires is to set back woody vegetation such as willow and aspen that has encroached upon open grassland areas.

For more information about prescribed fire activities at Rydell or Glacial Ridge, contact Eric Mark, fire management specialist, at (701) 425-9080 or eric_mark@fws.gov.

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