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Mission Reach Prescribed Burning

Native plant communities, and particularly grassland systems can benefit from periodic, low-intensity fires and other natural processes that reduce competition from taller plants and trees. Land managers use fire ecology for restoration purposes through a process called prescribed burning. Prescribed burning is a controlled, planned, and scientific management tool widely used to manage vegetation under very specific and safe conditions. When used as part of an adaptive management program, prescribed burning can result in an overall healthier landscape by removing dead pant material, restoring nutrients to the soils, and suppressing trees as well as some non-native species.

The San Antonio River Authority uses prescribed burning as a land management tool to help maintain the Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration Project. In June 2018 the San Antonio River Authority (River Authority) conducted its first prescribed burn in an effort to promote a resilient and diverse plant and wildlife community, reduce thatch and restore nutrients to the soil, suppress invasive species, and promote environmental education and sustainable landscape practices.

Prescribed burning is a controlled, planned, and scientific land management tool widely used to manage excessive vegetation under very specific and safe conditions.

The River Authority conducted its second burn in February 2019. "Cool" season burns, or burns that are conducted in the winter are more likely to help promote the growth of native species whereas "warm" season burns, or burns conducted in the Summer are used more to suppress growth of non-native species. Regardless of the season, prescribed burning will aid in management by reducing cover, removing thatch, suppressing woody encroachment, and restoring nutrients to the soil.

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After a prescribed burn, it is common to see increased diversity of plant and animal species. In addition, plants exhibit new growth that is beneficial to wildlife. Wildlife may be temporarily displaced during a prescribed burn, but will often return to find the habitat improved. In addition, research shows there are usually more insects found in rejuvenated burn areas compared to unburned areas. The increase in insects means more food available for birds and other wildlife.

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San Antonio River Authority's Prescribed Burn Efforts
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As part of the River Authority’s burn preparation, members from the Environmental Services and Watershed Park Operations departments, worked with Martin Reid, Avian consultant, to perform a nesting survey. This was to ensure there were no nesting birds in the area leading up to the day of the burn.

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Any wildlife that was in the area had a chance to flee. Images of insects and birds were captured moving away from the burning area.

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Wildlife returned to the area in the weeks following the completion of the burn, as the area began to recover and native vegetation began to sprout.

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The River Authority contracted with Raven Environmental Services Inc (Raven) to execute the burn in three separate areas along the Mission Reach segment of the Riverwalk.

Prior to creating the burn plan, each area was carefully assessed to determine the necessary conditions to ensure the area would reap the maximum environmental benefits. The River Authority and Raven took into account elements such as weather conditions, time of year and wind direction to keep public safety a top priority.

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The River Authority also consulted with the San Antonio Fire Department to have a presence on-site the day of the burn to assist with mop-up efforts and to ensure all hot spots were extinguished.

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The burned area of the Mission Reach after the burn. Staff assessing the burn unit often has observed a nearly total removal of thatch. This exposes soil surface to allow for germination of a diverse palate of native forbs and easier access for staff to manage non-native areas

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Interpretive signage was installed in each burn area to inform and educate visitors. The signage remains in place during the recovery process.

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Native vegetation such as the Scarlet Muskflower began sprouting within a month of the completed burn. A few other native plants that have been spotted are…

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…Zizotes Milkweed…

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…and Silver Leaf Nightshade.

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The River Authority's Watershed and Park Operations Department monitors and makes observations of the recovery for each burn area weekly. Staff assist in the recovery efforts through reseeding and targeted management of non-native vegetation that has re-sprouted.

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Before photo of a small area of vegetation.

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The same area immediately after the burn was completed in June 2018.

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Recovery of the same area 1 month post burn.

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Recovery of the same area 3 months post burn.

Click pictures below to see the burning operations and keep up to date with the recovery process of the “cool” season burn
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