The Chicago Park District has worked hard to restore patches of the city's parks to what they used to be -- Illinois prairie. In the hum and thrush of summer they are fascinating places to sit and watch nature at work. But as poet Bonnie Eldred noted, "Mother Nature is a bitch."
In the natural world she occasionally takes our her frustration on the prairie in the form of a prairie fire. It's frightening and chaotic when it's happening, but in the long run it is cleansing and cathartic for the ecosystem. And in the District's quest to really go the extra mile in simulating a natural environment in downtown Chicago, something's gotta burn.
Though I love the smell of a good wood fire, I don't know what a prairie fire smells like. I don't think the neighbors are going to be too happy with it. But the Park Department does have an entire web page about why burning is a good thing. You can read it here: http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/custom.natureOasis01 Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated in seven years.
Here's the summary about this year's burn from the public notice:
The Chicago Park District uses controlled burn management to help maintain native plant communities. A controlled burn is the use of fire as a management tool in a carefully planned and controlled manner. Controlled burn management is an efficient and economical tool that reduces the amount of pesticides that otherwise may be needed to control invasive plants. Fire helps promote species diversity by controlling invasive woody shrubs and trees. Without fire, natural areas often become thickets of shrubs or weeds with little diversity. Fire burns off dead vegetation and stimulates new plant growth by allowing sunlight to warm the dark soil, encouraging germination. Fire also enriches the soil by returning nutrients back to the soil.
Research shows that fire is a natural part of native Illinois ecosystems. These landscapes need to be burned periodically in order to stay healthy and to provide habitat for native plants and animals.
All persons who conduct controlled burns are specially trained, equipped, and supervised. The fire department has been notified and all permits have been obtained to do this work.
So, Lincoln Park is officially on burn notice.