Prescribed Burns: A Prescription for Habitat Health

Fire and Habitat Health

In the Chicago region, fire is a natural and essential ingredient of healthy native ecosystems. Throughout history, lightning sparked natural fires, performing a “house cleaning” function for nature. Oak woodlands and prairies are adapted to fire and depend on it to maintain their unique character.

Fire helps local habitats thrive by:

  • Releasing nutrients from burned plant materials.
  • Helping seeds to grow.
  • Opening the woodland floor to sunlight so that native wildflowers and plants can flourish.

Restoring a Natural Cycle

In an effort to restore the natural fire cycle, forest preserve districts and other agencies use controlled burns that are carefully watched and tended. Trained ecologists burn parts of the woods, wetlands, and prairies every few years to clear out weedy plants that choke out burr oaks and other native trees and wildflowers. The work is helping to bring back diverse communities of plants and animals, and creating dynamic, attractive, and safe natural areas for people to enjoy.

Planning and Conducting Controlled Burns

Each spring and fall, land managers conduct controlled burns, also known as prescribed burns, at several sites in the Chicago region. Before a burn, trained personnel survey the burn site and create a detailed plan of action. Then they carefully monitor the weather and wait until conditions are right, minimizing the chance that smoke will blow towards houses and roads. During burn seasons, staff also take care to inform neighbors of their plans so that people with health concerns can avoid the smoke.


Following a controlled burn, the reinvigorated natural areas provide habitat for wildlife and increase air and water quality in the region.

The information on prescribed burns has been provided by Chicago Wilderness.

Chicago Wilderness
The Wheaton Park District is a member of Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance comprised of over 250 public and private organizations. Members work together to study, restore, protect, and manage the natural ecosystems of the region, contribute to the preservation of global biodiversity, and enrich local resident’s quality of life. The members of Chicago Wilderness work together to develop and implement a variety of restoration, research, education, planning, and policy projects to achieve the common goal of biodiversity conservation.