A Prairie in the Boreal Region
While Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung is known as a sacred place, we are just beginning to learn about the site?s ecological significance. Until the 1800?s, mesic prairie vegetation grew?everywhere along the shores of the Rainy River. The region is often wet, but also drought prone due to the rocky/sandy soil base left by a glacial lake 10,000 years ago. Most of this prairie was cleared for agricultural purposes over the past 200 years by European farmers, thus drastically reducing the habitat available for the area?s native vegetation and wildlife. During this time, Ojibway people lived at Kay-Nah-Chi-Way-Nung. By burning the prairie each spring to better use the land, they facilitated the growth of the prairie plants. Today, because of the stewardship efforts of Aboriginal people, the oak savannah prairie nestled between the Long Sault Rapids and the forest has been preserved. This globally significant plant community hosts many of Ontario?s rare plants including Oval Leafed Milkweed, Hoary Puccoon and Wild Licorice, as well as the insects and animals depending on them.
It has been said that every plant is a healing plant, which has been used as food or medicine ? ?everything taken was used.?
Rainy River First Nation Elders wish to preserve Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung?s heritage. Accordingly, Rainy River First Nations organizes a prescribed bum of the prairie each spring as soon as the snow melts. This fire renews growth of rare prairie plants and keeps invasive species away.
As fire burns through the prairie, it exposes the mineral soil, allowing for new growth of plants. Prairie plants are well adapted to fire as their growth tissue is located below the topsoil, safe from the effects of fast burning fire. After a fire, while prairie plants continue to grow from below the soil, woody plants are set back or destroyed because their growth material is at the upper tip of each plant. Without human intervention, one would expect the prairie to burn every 3-5 years due to natural causes of fire such as lightning strikes.
In addition to annual burns, the stewardship plan for Kay-Nah-Chi-Way-Nung includes monitoring the flora and fauna of the prairie to collect information on the distribution of native and invasive species. Butterflies, insects and other wildlife are also being monitored to gather more information about this rare ecosystem.
What Happens to Animals and Insects in a Prairie Fire?
Prairie insects often hibernate under the soil Amphibians, such as Gray Tree Frogs, hibernate by burying themselves under soil or roots.
It is while insects and amphibians are still hibernating, immediately after the snow melts, that the prairie is burned, so few are harmed.
Only part of the prairie is burned at any one time, allowing moving animals a chance to find new homes.