EUGENE, Ore. -- Firefighters contained a grass fire at Lane County's largest park after starting the fire on purpose.
The 10-acre controlled burn on Buford Park Recreation Area's oak savanna mimics the fires set by native tribes and natural lightning. Research suggests the ecosystem evolved with these fires.
"Fires kept the landscape open, attracting game and encouraging the camas plant to flourish, a staple food harvested by the area's Kalapuya Indians," said Chris Orsinger, executive director of Friends of Buford Park. "This will be the ninth controlled burn since 1999 in this area of the park that have enhanced rare oak savanna, as well as upland and wetland prairies."
Less than 2 percent of the native oak savanna in the Willamette Valley still exists. The 2,363-acre Buford Park, largest of Lane County's 55 parks, is home to what may be the largest remaining oak savanna in the Willamette Valley.
Friends of Buford Park have a plan to preserve and restore the habitat in the park.
Orsinger will give a presentation at REI in Eugene on Thursday at 7 p.m. called "Conserving Mount Pisgah: A legacy for the future."
Orsigner will describe the group's habitat restoration programs designed to benefit rivers and floodplains, oak and prairies, wildflowers and wildlife, and outdoor recreation. He will also outline the opportunity to fulfill the park's original vision by purchasing the adjacent 1,200-acre Wildish lands, an undeveloped natural area with six miles of river front.
"The Oregon Natural Heritage Program considers oak savanna and upland prairie habitats 'globally endangered' because less than two percent of each survives in the Willamette Valley," Orsinger said. "Their presence at Buford Park is one reason many biologists consider this park a biological treasure house, for it is home to over 500 plant species and over 100 bird species."
Prescribed burns are used by land managers like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to reduce fuel loads and restore forests to more historically accurate ecosystems. Some lightning-caused wildfires are allowed to burn and monitored by fire managers.
At Buford Park, the fire "rejuvenates the prairie by giving a nutrient pulse as the thatch is converted to nitrogen and other nutrients," Orsinger said. "That then produces a beautiful wildflower display the next spring, so I would encourage people to take a walk next April or May in this area on the east side of the park."
The prescribed burn and associated research was made possible due to the partnership among Lane County Parks Division, Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah and the Oregon Department of Forestry. The Oregon Department of Forestry's East Lane District used the burn as a training exercise for its fire fighters.
Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority, which provided the burn permit, stipulated that burn be conducted when wind conditions were optimal to minimize smoke impacts or other hazards.