Goshen College does controlled burn of prairie land

Goshen College science students and a science professor oversaw two controlled burns on campus Thursday.

Posted on April 4, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 4, 2013 at 4:57 p.m.

GOSHEN — Smoke rolled off patches of Goshen College’s campus Thursday where flowers and other plants should thrive this summer.

Goshen College biology and environmental science professor Ryan Sensenig and students from his classes oversaw the controlled burn of two areas of native landscaping at the college Thursday afternoon, April 4.

The college has converted several areas that had been grass lawn to native prairie land to foster a habitat for birds, insects and small mammals, to reduce the need for mowing and irrigation and for its natural beauty.

Sensenig explained that burning those areas is an essential part of establishing a prairie.

“Cool season grasses,” like common lawn grasses, are starting to grow now, while native prairie grasses and flowers grow in the heat of the summer. Burning now pushes back the growth of that grass and other woodier plants, allowing the prairie plants to grow.

“If you don’t burn in Indiana, you’ll get a forest,” he said.

Sensenig has been involved in more than 25 burns in various places, including at Merry Lea Environmental Center, though this was the first on Goshen College’s actual campus.

Sensenig’s students wore protective gear and sprayed water along the prairie land areas to create a border containing the fire. The two areas the group burned Thursday were the native landscaping at the south end of the campus, yards from South Main Street, and an area behind the Recreation-Fitness Center. A small crowd of students, Goshen College staff and community members gathered to watch the process.

These burns will become a regular part of all of the native landscaped areas on campus, probably happening every three years or so, Sensenig said. The controlled burns take the place of wildfires that would have done the same for prairie plants.

Several members of the Goshen Fire Department were also on hand Thursday in case the group needed any assistance.

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