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Good Question: How Do Controlled Burns Affect Wildlife?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MARINE ON ST. CROIX, Minn. (WCCO) — You may have noticed smoke in the air. It’s coming from several controlled burns going on around the state.

One viewer, Carl from Oak Grove, wrote us concerned about the wildlife. So, when the DNR does a controlled burn, what happens to the wildlife? Good Question.

In the last two days, about 180 acres have burned at the William O’Brien State Park near Marine on St. Croix.

Mark Cleveland with the Department of Natural Resources says they do controlled burns for ecological benefit. Cleveland says they consider wildlife when writing prescriptions for burns.

It turns out that spring is a good time for controlled burns because many animals are dormant. Either they’re hibernating or the soil still isn’t warm enough for them to come out, so the burns have a minimal impact on wildlife.

“We do consider timing—whether it’s affecting a time during nesting periods, we tried to avoid those,” Cleveland said.

In addition to DNR employees just simply keeping an eye out for wildlife, the animals also have a way of protecting themselves.

“One of the terms that we’ve been using a lot in the last few years is ‘refugia.’ You can hear the word refuge in there,” Cleveland said.

“Refugia” are the lighter-colored patches that lie among the charred area. Snails, butterflies and other insects actually take refuge inside the pockets.

Rodents or critters are rarely impacted, according to Cleveland.

“It does periodically happen, but usually a bad day for one animal is a good day for another,” Cleveland said.

Phil Jenni, the Director at the Minnesota’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, said animals have heightened instincts when it comes to fire.

According to Jenni, animals use their senses very differently than humans do. Humans have five senses that all get fairly equal play, animals often have fewer. This explains why each sense, like eye sight or smell, is greatly enhanced.

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