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Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids use fire as an ecosystem management tool

Marywood is home to the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids.  The Dominican Order began in thirteenth-century Europe with the vision and work of Dominic de Guzman.  In 1853, four cloistered Dominican nuns left Regensburg and went to New York to minister to German immigrants.  Answering a call for teachers in Michigan, six nuns from the New York group arrived in Traverse City, Michigan in October 1877.  In less than two decades, the Dominican Sisters established a parochial school system that flourished throughout the state for the next century. The Dominican Sisters came to Grand Rapids in 1888 to administer the newly-founded St. John’s Home, which was a diocesan institute for the care of orphans and children whose parents could not care for them.  The Sisters have been at their current Marywood campus off Fulton Street since 1922.

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Still to this day, the Dominican Sisters serve in schools and institutions of higher learning, healthcare and hospice and social service ministries. They are leaders the community and provide spiritual direction and guidance.  Their discipleship also includes being responsible land stewards and advocates for the environment; this is evident by the beautiful 34-acre Marywood campus.  The Marywood campus has many unique environments including a 1-acre prairie that flourishes with native plants and grasses.  In an effort to eliminate the use of all pesticides at Marywood, the ancient practice of prescribed burning is used.  Prescribed burning is a natural way to combat invasive plants and woody species from taking over rare ecosystem like prairies.

This morning, Wednesday, April 20th at around 10:15 am, overseen by a team of prescribed burn professionals the western portion of the 1-acre prairie was lite and quickly burnt through this small prairie. The main fuel source was dried sedge and grasses.  The eastern most portion of the prairie was not burned as a way to protect and avoid certain unique species including some identified Praying Mantis egg sacs.  Praying Mantis are valuable insects to have in prairies due to their predatory nature against other invasive and nuisance pests. Not to mention, they are awesome.

mantis category58Prescribed burning has been used by farmers, foresters, and many other natural resource professionals. Pre-agricultural societies used fire to regulate both plant and animal life. Historic fire studies have documented periodic wildland fires that were ignited by indigenous peoples in North America as a way to regenerate the earth and soil. In modern times, prescription burning and fire management is a science that is managed and performed by trained professionals. Fire managers closely watch and evaluate many things when planning for or performing a prescribed burn, such things include: fuel types and loads, temperature, humidity, wind direction, wind speed, and smoke dispersal.

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To see more pictures from the April 20th burn visit the Urban Forest Project Facebook page.

To learn more about prescribed burning and fire management in our State visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fire Management webpage. If you’re interested in more information on the Marywood Campus and the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids please visit www.grdominicans.org.

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