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Natural preservation efforts are heating up in Forest Park

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 2, 2012 - Visitors to Forest Park on Friday morning could not help but notice some smoke and fire, the result of a controlled burn. In an effort to improve the natural quality of a prairie in the Deer Lake Natural Area of the park, the city of St. Louis and Forest Park Forever organized the controlled burn shortly before noon.

Approximately 14-acres of the 24-acre wet savannah area, approximately one-quarter mile east of Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor Center on Grand Drive, was burned to help maintain the vitality and health of the area by eliminating invasive species and adding new nutrients into the ground.

"These ecosystems would naturally see fire; and this controlled burn has a lot of ecological benefits for this area," Peter Van Linn, an ecologist for Forest Park Forever, said.

DJM Ecological Services started the burn, and the St. Louis Fire Department was on hand to keep an eye on its development. A small test burn was conducted at 9:30 a.m. to measure the rate of burn and the wind direction.

"We have been working on planning this burn for over a year and we made sure to monitor the fire and its progress," Jasmine Evans, a Marketing & Communications Specialist for Forest Park Forever, said.

There are more than 150 acres in Forest Park that Forest Park Forever, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining and sustaining the park, views as a natural reserve. Linn and other ecologists work year round to plan for these preservation efforts.

One ecological problem in the park is the amount of invasive species that compete with the natural plants for nutrients in the area. Linn said that honeysuckles and large shrubs such as silver maple would often grow above the natural plants in the area; blocking the amount of sunlight and other nutrients they receive.

"We did it for the development of the natural ecosystems within the park, it is better than mowing or taking no action," Evans said.

Evans said that the area is not widely used, but it will be blocked off for a few days. Forest Park Forever is hoping to plan future burns to areas with similar ecological issues. Linn said that he hoped to have one or two a year to help improve the natural quality of the park.

"In general, Forest Park has a very healthy habitat, we are just trying to maintain that with these natural fires," Linn said. "It is important to have natural areas in a city setting, it can teach us a lot from an educational standpoint and if nothing else, it is a nice escape from the city."

Jonathan Ernst, a senior at Saint Louis University, is a Beacon intern. 

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