As warmer weather slowly rolls in, the Ann Arbor Natural Area Preservation is preparing for its “rite of spring” the controlled burn season.

The season officially begins Feb. 27, but NAP Manager David Borneman said it’s unlikely the city will see any burns until at least March due to this year’s heavy snowfall. NAP conducts controlled burns at parks around Ann Arbor every spring and fall as a way to control invasive plant species, such as the common buckthorn shrub.

“Fire is historically a very natural part of our ecosystem,” Borneman said. “It encourages the native vegetation that has evolved with fire and discourages the non-native vegetation that has not evolved with fire. So we use fire simply to give the competitive advantage back to the natives.”

The recent cold weather will likely delay the first burns of the season to March at the earliest, Borneman said. A good burn day is a dry day — 30 to 40 percent relative humidity and not too much wind. But Borneman said good burn days have been hard to come by in the past few years, even without much snow.

He explained that as non-native shrubs close in and “change the character of our woods,” the landscape tends to not burn as well as it has in the past. The city sees at least 15 to 20 good burn days in the spring season, but Borneman said a few fall seasons have gone by without a single burn.

NAP will hold a public meeting on Feb. 25 at the Traverwood Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library to address questions residents have about the burn season.

Borneman said a possible concern is that fire destroys everything in its path — not just invasive plants. That means that animals or insects could be caught in the controlled burn.

“If there are concerns about rare species of insects or reptiles or amphibians we can take precautions to either burn the area in a very patchy fashion, so it leaves some areas that are unburned, or we can burn it in a slow fashion so any animals that need to escape there will be able to do that easier,” he said.

The meeting will also serve as recruiting ground since NAP’s controlled burns rely on volunteers who are trained in necessary safety precautions. Borneman said the program trains 40 to 50 people every season, with each burn requiring five to 15 volunteers.

“We never really call it a burn day until the last minute, and we have everybody trained and all the preparations done, and then we can simply send the e-mail out and notify people that today is the day,” Borneman said.

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