Native community restores land through controlled burns

By Kirsten Mitchell

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    SCOTT COUNTY, Minnesota (WCCO) -- In Minnesota, a Native American community in Scott County is restoring land using fire. Friday morning, they conducted a controlled burn at Tewapa prairie located southeast of County Road 82 and Mniowe Trail in Scott County.

“Fire is a really good thing if you use it in appropriate ways. We are striving to rebuild our connection with fire and to educate the community about the benefits of it,” Environmental Sciences Supervisor for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said.

In the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, firefighters set the dry prairie grass on fire, as part of a century’s old tradition of controlled burns, once restricted by settlers.

“We had a historical relationship and that was disturbed after European settlement and so we are here to bring that back to the landscape. A lot of these ecosystems are evolved with fire, so they need it to stay healthy,” Anderson said.

Anderson said her ancestors used fire in many ways, like to clear vegetation around camps and to boost plant production.

“A good example is blueberries. We used that to boost blueberry production and its helpful because a lot of the nutrients are then recycled into the soil and a lot of these plants need fire to stay healthy,” she said.

Since 1999, the native community has restored more than 1,000 acres of prairie land. Though there’s a short window for when they can burn, they still see results.

“We are bringing back a lot of plants and have seen a lot of wildlife from that and so this community has changed significantly in the past years because we’ve been restoring natural areas for the community’s benefit,” she said.

They plan to conduct more controlled burns this spring. If weather conditions change, they said they would try to revisit the sites again this fall.

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