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News and events

News & events

Rice Center wetland burn

February 21, 2013

On Feb. 21, after months of careful planning and preparation, members of the Forestry Service, in coordination with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), executed a controlled burn at the VCU Rice Center in an effort to alleviate the effects of an invasive spread of cattails (Typha latifolia). As part of an ongoing restoration project of the wetland area surrounding Kimages Creek, approximately 70 acres were mapped, prepared and burned in order to make way for planting of native species appropriate to the area.

In 2010, the dam and spillway that created Charles Lake in 1928 were removed by the VCU Rice Center in order to restore Kimages Creek and the wetlands that covered the original low-lying area. Since then, the cattails have spread rapidly, crowding out the area that will be planted with a broader range of species for a more balanced wetlands ecosystem.

The site was carefully mapped to delineate property boundaries, structures on the property and an eagle's nest in proximity to the targeted site. On the day of the burn, a dedicated TNC observer communicated frequently with the burn units via radio to make certain the eagles and their nest remained undisturbed.

Prior to the main burn, fire breaks were created all around the burn area: this involved removing all vegetation down to the mineral surface, and charring a wide strip inside and adjacent to the mineral strip as a virtual fence around the area to be burned.

On the day of the burn, the needed northerly wind would carry smoke and any embers out over the James, disrupting the surrounding areas as little as possible. Close to noon on Feb. 21, when the tide was high and the wind was blowing in the appropriate direction, the trucks were deployed to the first starting point, and the observers moved into place. Among those observers were Daniel Fort, VCU Rice Center's chairman of the board, and Len Smock, director of VCU Rice Center.

The burn teams began by testing test how flammable the fuel was that day — the cattails themselves. Engineers in protective fire gear set out by canoe to ignite different points for best advantage. Eventually a large section was successfully ignited, consuming a significant portion of the unwanted vegetation.

By the end of the day, much of the targeted vegetation was eliminated in order for further wetland planting in the spring.

Many thanks to the hardworking crew for their diligent work to assist in restoring these critical wetlands.

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