On November 30th, 2020 a group composed of students from the Half-Pint Prairie with help staff from UT-Landscape Services and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center conducted a controlled burn of the Half-Pint Prairie.
Half-Pint is a pocket prairie that demonstrates the landscape that covered much of what is now called Texas before colonization. But today, because of urbanization, unsustainable agriculture, and fire suppression, less than 0.01% of the original ecosystem remains.
Restoring a prairie means not only selecting plants that are native to the local area, but also maintaining them with the methods the plants are evolutionarily adapted to. For millennia, the prairie ecosystems of Turtle Island thrived with the help of periodic fires (and sometimes buffalo stampedes) deliberately set by native peoples. These fires prevented trees from shading out grasses, returned nutrients to the soil, and helped new species take hold due to decreased competition. Fires are the natural and regenerative way to maintain a healthy prairie.
However, in urban spaces like campus, executing a fire can be tricky. While our prairie is just a postage stamp of green in a sea of concrete, we took extensive precautions to mitigate fire risk, prevent disruptions, and ensure social distancing. The burn only took about ten minutes, but its impact is enormous. With the help of the LBJ Wildflower Center and UT Landscape Services, we’ve established a set of best practices that hopefully means this burn is the first of many on campus and in the city.