There is an issue with the management of our postage stamp sized prairies by fire, or “prescribed burning.” Specifically, many of the butterfly researchers argue that management by prescribed burning has eliminated a number of the prairie obligate butterflies, including Oarisma poweshiek, from the preserves that are set up to try to protect them.
Having said that, I think it is interesting to look at prairie fires from a historical perspective.
Samuel Parker was the father of Henry W. Parker, the poet who described the Poweshiek skipper. When Henry was 13, Samuel went on a mission trip to the western part of what is now the United States, leaving his family behind in Ithaca, New York. The trip took a little more than two years.
Upon his return, Samuel published a book, Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains. It was a best-seller. In it, he describes his journey and the landscape. Samuel Parker was credited with popularizing the idea that a railroad could be constructed across the mountains—a railroad that would eventually join the east and the west coast. The following quotation is from his book.
“Passed, on the second (April 2, 1853), Point Girardou, fifty miles above the mouth of the Ohio. It is pleasantly situated upon a bluff on the west side of the Mississippi. It has a fine prospect of the river, and might, under the hand of industry, become a desirable place; but the French Catholics are not an enterprising people, and it has the appearance of decay. We moved but slowly against the wind and current.
The fires of the prairies coming over the bluffs presented a very pleasing scene this evening. The bluffs are two hundred feet high, and extend one or two miles along the river. At a considerable distance they appeared like an illuminated city, but as we approached and had a nearer view, the illusion dissipated. The fires had advanced nearly over the bluffs, and curtained them with a moderately ascending blaze, drawn up on the bluffs and let down in festoons in the ravines; and the counterpart reflected from the smooth waters of the broad Mississippi, added much beauty and grandeur of the prospect.”