Letters to the Editor

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PRAIRIES: Burning required to maintain habitat

Letter by Ken A. Schlichte, Tumwater on May 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm | 1 Comment »
June 1, 2010 9:53 am

Re: “‘Just a bug, but a very beautiful bug’” (TNT, 5-25).

The only self-supported population of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, once found on prairies from Vancouver Island to the Willamette Valley, is limited to the prairie around the artillery impact zone at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and others have reported that the prairies of the South Puget Sound area developed by replacing forests during a warm-dry climatic period around 10,000 to 7,000 years ago. Temperatures have been cooler for thousands of years since this warmer period, known as the Holocene Maximum, but these prairies were maintained against naturally advancing forest vegetation by Native American prairie burning.

Native American prairie burning ended in the 1800s, and prairie habitat suitable for the Taylor checkerspot then became more fragmented and degraded as forest vegetation naturally reclaimed these prairies. But the fires escaping from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord artillery impact zone have maintained the surrounding prairie habitat with the only self-supported population of the Taylor checkerspot.

Native American prairie burning and artillery impact fires have maintained the prairie habitat for the Taylor’s checkerspot and other prairie species during the thousands of years of cooler temperatures since the Holocene Maximum. These cooler temperatures require continued prairie burning in order to maintain our remaining prairie habitat against the naturally advancing forest vegetation.

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