Natural Area Preservation

Controlled Burns

Skip Navigation LinksHome » Departments » Parks and Recreation » Natural Area Preservation » Controlled Burns
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Dana Novak-SeanLP_Mike Hahn_Leslie Golf Course_2019.04.10.jpg

The 2021 Summer/Autumn Controlled Ecological Burn season starts Monday, August 2, and ends Thursday, December 23. 

Natural Area Preservation (NAP), will be conducting controlled ecological burns in local natural areas as weather permits between August 2 and December 23. Burns are conducted on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. On the day of a controlled burn, signs will be posted around the site and staff will be available on site to answer questi​ons. The fire will be under control at all times.​ Please contact NAP at 734.794.6627 or [email protected] with any questions, or attend our Public Meeting (details below).

Public Meeting:  Controlled Ecological Burn Program
Wednesday, October 13
NAP Office, 3875 E. Huron River Drive
7 to 8:30 p.m.
Fire is used as a restoration tool in many of Ann Arbor's natural areas. This meeting will be a discussion about our Controlled Ecological Burn Program. Ask questions and learn more about the benefits of effectively and safely using fire as a restoration tool.

All persons are encouraged to participate in public meetings. Accommodations, including sign language interpreters, may be arranged by contacting the City Clerk's office at 734.794.6140; via email to: [email protected]; or by written request addressed and mailed or delivered to: City Clerk's Office, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Requests made with less than two business days' notice may not be able to be accommodated. 

​Where will we burn?

During the Summer/Autumn 2021 season, NAP h​​as permits to burn in the following locations: Arbor Hills Nature Area, Bird Hills Nature Area, Buttonbush Nature Area, Cedar Bend Nature Area, Foster Nature Area, Kuebler Langford Nature Area, Miller Nature Area, Scarlett Mitchell Nature Area, and South Pond Nature Area.​

​​​Why Burn?​​

Our native Ann Arbor ecosystems are fire-dependent. Until settlers began suppressing fires in the early 1700s, fire enriched the soil and removed dead thatch, allowing diverse native plant and animal communities to thrive. Continued fire suppression has disrupted the natural balance and allowed fire-intolerant, non-native plant species to out-compete the native, fire-adapted plants. By reintroducing fire in our parks, we are reinstating an essential ecosystem process.

Are Burn​s Safe?

For People

Burn breakThe burn is conducted by well-equipped, fully-trained staff and volunteers. The local fire department is notified before each burn, and cell phones and two-way radios are carried by staff conducting a burn. If anything unexpected were to occur, staff would respond immediately. Plenty of portable water tanks and a water truck are present at each burn site. Each area to be burned is also surrounded by a non-combustible strip of ground, called a “burn break,” which contains the fire.

Controlled burns produce some smoke, which contains water vapor, carbon dioxide,Smoke visible during a burn other chemicals, and particulate matter. In general, emissions from burns are significantly less than those produced from mowing a comparably-sized site, but steps are taken to minimize the amount of public exposure to what little smoke is produced. Although a burst of smoke does quickly return carbon to the atmosphere, research suggests that by stimulating the accelerated growth of vegetation, prescribed burns may actually increase the amount of carbon sequestered over the long-term.

For Animals

During the burn, most animals retreat to burrows or move to surrounding areas, as only a portion of the park is burned. Smaller animals need only be half an inch underground to avoid the heat of the fire. Animal habitat is generally improved as a result of fire in sites we burn – stimulating a diverse, healthy natural community. NAP also conducts annual breeding bird, salamander, and frog and toad surveys to monitor the effects of burns and other restoration activities on animal populations.

How Quickly Do Areas Recover?

Burned areas re-green very rapidly. Solar heat absorbed by the blackened surface warms the soil, and plants respond by vigorously sprouting and sending up shoots. This is one of the many ecological benefits of prescribed burning. It is amazing to visit these areas periodically after a burn and witness the fast rate of new plant growth. Below is a series of photographs taken in 2009 of the prairie in front of the Leslie Science and Nature Center on Traver Road.

Day of burn   Day of burn (March 18)

 Nine days after the burn (March 27)   9 days after a burn

5 weeks after the burn  Five weeks after the burn (April 21)

Ten weeks after the burn (May 28)  10 weeks after the burn

6 months after the burn Six months after the burn (Sept 1)

​How do we plan the burns?

NAP staff assess each site and develop a burn plan that provides information on the specific ecological objectives of the burn, preferred weather conditions to meet those objectives and minimize smoke, the ignition pattern, locations of burn breaks to safely contain the fire, equipment, contingency plans, and emergency phone numbers. Detailed maps are prepared showing areas targeted for burns, where burn breaks will be located, and neighborhoods in which people might see or smell smoke. City and Township Fire Marshals review the plans before issuing the necessary permits.  We wait until weather conditions are within the range specified in the burn plan before proceeding. Burns are planned each winter for the upcoming spring, and in summer for the upcoming fall. Park neighbors are notified in advance by mail that a controlled b​urn is planned and are given an opportunity to discuss concerns at a public burn meeting. 

For a printable factsheet with this information, view our Controlled Ecological Burn Factsheet (pdf).

Envelope image 
Sign up to
receive NAP Controlled Burns
email updates.
Contact Information
3875 E. Huron River Drive​
David Borneman, Deputy Manager - Volunteerism and Natural Area Preservation​
Check out a map of Ann Arbor's parks!​​​