University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

UD students learn to conduct prescribed burns from alumni wildlife managers on field trip

Students in Jeff Buler’s Wildlife Habitat Management class saw techniques they learned in class when they travelled to the Cedar Swamp Wildlife Management Area near Smyrna to see a prescribed burn led by former University of Delaware students who now work for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) Division of Fish and Wildlife. Buler, associate professor of wildlife ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that this is the sixth year he conducted the trip for his class. The 42 students who went got to learn how prescribed burning is used to manage grassland habitats, where technicians intentionally burn grassland fields to set back succession—the process by which a grassland becomes a forest—and keep woody plants from encroaching.

“It also helps to enhance the growth of those early successional plants,” Buler said. “One of the challenges they have is that the grasses are growing at too high a density so they are also using that burn to help reduce the density of the grass. If they get too dense they aren’t providing as good a habitat for wildlife.”

Prescribed burns are more prevalent in other parts of the country, such as the Midwest, where grasslands are the dominant habitat type, so it was a great opportunity for the students to see the management technique first hand.