Controlled burn planned for Naas Preserve

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust will set a small portion of the Naas Natural Area Preserve ablaze to help restore prairie habitat needed by the golden paintbrush plant.

The controlled burn will cover less than 1 acre of the 33-acre preserve, officials with the trust said. The burn is part of the organization's work to restore the original prairie and enhance habitat for the golden paintbrush, a rare plant classified as a threatened species by the federal government.

A date has not yet been set for the burn, but it could come as early as Monday, Sept. 29. The Naas Natural Area Preserve is south of Coupeville and is located in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. It was acquired by the land trust in 2005.

Officials said research has shown native plants rebound after fires.

“Before settlement by the pioneers in the 1850s, fire was a major tool used by Native Americans to keep the prairies open,” said Cheryl Lowe of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. “Studies on other Puget Sound prairies have shown that controlled burns significantly improve conditions for golden paintbrush and other native prairie vegetation.”

The date the burn will be conducted depends on a number of conditions, including humidity and wind direction, and the conditions that are necessary are detailed in a burn plan approved by state and local agencies.

Experienced crews from the Nature Conservancy will start the fire, and a water truck and other equipment will be on site to prevent the fire from leaving the burn boundaries, officials said.

“Safety and smoke management are our top priorities for the burn. If safety and smoke management conditions can’t be met, we will not burn,” Lowe said.

According to the land trust, prairies are one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Prairies and oak woodlands were historically common in the Puget Sound region, but less than 1 percent remains of about 8,000 acres of prairie originally present on Whidbey Island.

The Naas Preserve contains one of the largest prairie remnants left on the island, and the Whidbey Camano Land Trust has been working with other groups for several years to restore native grasses, sedges and wildflowers to the preserve.

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