In a stunning development, a planned prairie-grasses restoration fire at Minnesota’s Murphy-Hanrehan State Park faces blame for the napalm-type extermination of more than one million ticks. Acres and acres of grasslands, torched to a blackened crisp, are now rejuvenating to their natural habitat to the delight of authorities, but the rage of the ticks lingers. Their homeland destroyed, the survivors vowed to bite back.
The Three Rivers Park District explains their controlled burns “as the primary tool for prairie management.”
From newspaper accounts of Tick Times, with their headline lifted for the title of this article, the devastation of the tick nation reveals their anguish. “An entire generation has been scorched, wiped clean off the land by this nasty act of authorities to kill us off, burning us no less.” I tried explaining to the survivors the importance of this project, that of reclaiming habitats native to these lands; how this project, planned in detail by the DNR, the Department of Natural Resources, can once again display and enjoy meadows as they were once seen in this region.
In a July 2003 study by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Biology, “The Effects of Fire Versus Mowing on Prairie Plant Communities,” partially conducted at Murphy-Hanrehan, findings such as these are described:
1. “Prescribed burning has the strongest effects on plant community composition and is the most effective method to increase above ground plant biomass in a restored tallgrass prairie. Burning especially favors warseason grasses (WSG) and legume species, though it also favors certain annual species.”
2. “Native species, especially the dominant warm-season grasses, also help discourage weeds. These aggressive competitors rapidly utilize soil nutrients, thereby preventing the establishment of invasive and noxious plant species.”
3. ” The best management practice used on prairies to help promote the native species is prescribed burning. Burns are usually performed in the spring because this is the most practical time of year. It is beneficial to the dominant native grasses and helps control many undesirable exotic plants.”
The same thought process works in the forests, too, just in a different way. John Gunyou, board chair of the Three Rivers Park District, wrote, “Our Forestry staff grows our own plant stock from locally sourced seeds at our nursery in Crow-Hassan Park Reserve. Each year, Three Rivers plants more than 62,000 native trees and shrubs in our parks, helping to restore the Big Woods and oak savannas that once covered our region. Forestry management is not simply planting trees and letting them grow. Careful, active and continuous management is needed to control and prevent damage by disease and invasive insects.”
Another example would be the removal of buckthorn infestations at Murphy-Hanrehan, then the removal of mature Aspens; the Aspens will be replanted. Through their aggressive growth, invasive buckthorn finds an inhospitable environment and doesn’t get a foot-hold.
“You believe that cover-up?” exclaimed Dick Tick, lead reporter for the newspaper.
Explaining he lost his own appetite under the stress of this calamity—”I’m sick about this”—he recounted this quick story: “Worse, we lost our leader, the time-keeper for all ticks.” Dick pointed out the only family who had the ability to tell time in their world, the Tocks, were lost in the blaze. “Wiped out, totally gone. We won’t know the time, much less the date anymore. What are we gonna do now there is no Tick Tock?”
With shtick like that, he may have a future on the comedy stage . . . .
His only bright note came with news the visiting soccer team from New England, The Lymeys, made it out with nary a nick. Competing at Murphy-Hanrehan for the Ixodidae Cup, named after their species that sports a shield, the team escaped the inferno. Soccer is an important sport among the families, “Much better than the human version,” Dick told me. “You ought to see the lick on the ball with all eight legs we have are going; it’s slick.”
Yes, okay, but what about the team? “They luckily had just caught the last doe for the coast, riding the all-you-can-eat meal ticket.” Wait a second, I interjected. That sounds much like Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” I didn’t know ticks listened to music. Is this a trick?
Losing patience, Dick said, “You’re thick! What do you think we are? Hicks? We know about vestal virgins; ask Rick.”
Rick? I questioned. “Yes, our editor . . . Rickie Tick. We have lives. We gotta do something at mealtime.”
The park is serious on the mission of restoring prairie lands. On August 19, 2014, volunteers will collect native wildflower seeds to aid in the amount and diversity of plantings through park’s boundaries in an annual prairie seed harvest. “Seed collecting provides an opportunity to learn about the prairie’s rich history and how to identify many of the plants while helping to restore park land to native prairies,” explains the DNR. “Volunteers will assist wildlife staff to collect hundreds of pounds of wildflower seed for restoration and enhancement projects. Training and collection bags are provided at the start of each session.”
Please understand this activity has nothing to do with sowing wild oats.