In an effort to restore Maclellan Island’s historical native plant and wildlife biodiversity, the Chattanooga Audubon Society announced it will conduct a prescribed burn on the 25-acre property in late February or early March.
If you’re unfamiliar with prescribed burns, they are a forest management tactic that emulates natural fire cycles. These cycles play a pivotal role in revitalizing forests and preserving ecological equilibrium (think: burning away overgrowth and invasive species + allowing for native plant life to return).
Fun fact: Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center has conducted a series of prescribed burns on its properties for these reasons.
The prescribed burn will be a “low-intensity” or “slow-creeping” fire. These fires only burn two to three feet off the ground — meaning you won’t see an uproar of flames take over the trees on the island. The burns are expected to be finished within a day (between 9 a.m. + 4 p.m.), and folks will have access to the properties the following day.
Chattanooga Audubon Society Executive Director Jim Stewart said the details of the burns have been verified by local experts + members of the Chattanooga Fire Department will have full control over the safety of the burning process.
Stewart said they are timing the burn with the safety of wildlife in mind. The burns will be conducted before a major bird migration that welcomes species to the area for nesting. Additionally, species like insects and reptiles will remain safe underground + if there are mammals present on the island they will have adequate escape routes.
So, what happens once the burns are over? The Chattanooga Audubon Society has plans to plant a limited amount of shrubs to encourage the natural regeneration of native plant species that also provide food for wildlife.
“Right now there’s not a lot of food available on the island, so think of shrubs and plants that have different nuts and seeds that birds and mammals can eat,” said Stewart. “We want to see that come back on the island and for it to be more in its natural state.”
The burns will also benefit upkeep at Maclellan Island + Audubon Acres. Currently, the trails and campsites are overgrown with invasive species, making the areas difficult to navigate. With the burn, the areas will be cleared and easier to maintain for future use.
Although an exact date for the burns can’t be determined until the day before due to weather conditions, here are a few logistics to keep in mind before the event:
- For the safety of pedestrians + motorists, pedestrian traffic will not be allowed on Veterans Bridge during the burn.
- Veterans Bridge will be narrowed down to one lane in each direction.
- In case of heavy smoke, Veterans Bridge could potentially close.
- The public can watch the burns take place, but not from any roadways or Veterans Bridge — Walnut Street Bridge is okay.
- During the burns, nearby parks will remain open.
- During the burns, the displayed American Flags will be removed from Veterans Bridge to prevent any staining or other damages.
For updates on the burns, folks can follow the Chattanooga Audubon Society’s Facebook page. Bonus: You’ll also find fun events + volunteer opportunities to help the organization with its conservation efforts.