Controlling Woody Vegetation in Wetland Prairies (1994-2001)

The present study experimentally tested the responses of burning, hand-removal of woody species, and mowing with removal of cut material on woody plants and key native and non-native grasses and forbs.  We evaluated these perturbations for their effectiveness in meeting management objectives of reducing abundance of woody species, reducing or preventing an increase in abundance of non-native pest species, and increasing or at least maintaining native species’ abundance.   After four treatments periods (1994, 1996, 1998, and 2000) the following patterns emerged:

  • Woody species    Burning and hand-removal of woody plants every two years consistently decreased the cover of woody species, even with a gradual increase in the controls to over double 1994 levels.  The change in woody cover after mowing with removal of cut material was not significantly different from that in the control.  As woody plant cover decreased, plant mortality increased, indicating that treatments influenced woody plant cover at least partially through changes in survival.
  • Native herbaceous species    None of the treatments had a significant effect after four treatment periods on the proportional change in cover or in number of inflorescences of Deschampsia cespitosa, although the change in number of inflorescences was consistently less than that in the control, including a  significant decrease with burning in 1997.  As a group, native graminoid species showed no significant differences in flowering response to treatments during any of the four treatment periods.  However, burning and mowing consistently promoted flowering of Juncus tenuis.  The cover of native forbs as a group was not significantly different from that of the control, with the exception of 1997, where cover increased with burning and hand-removal.  Even though native forbs as a group have generally not shown significant differences, individual native forb species have shown positive responses to treatments: Sidalcea cusickii, spp. purpurea, Eriophyllum lanatum, and Sisyrinchium idahoensis.
  • Non-native herbaceous species   Both hand-removal and mowing promoted flowering of non-native graminoids as a group.  In contrast, burning maintained levels of flowering of non-native graminoids similar to that of the controls. Cover of non-native forbs as a group showed no significant treatment differences except for 1997, in which significant reductions in cover occurred after burning and hand-removal


The results to date show that prescribed burning is the best option of the three tested management treatments for achieving the restoration goals for native wetland prairies. Because mowing with removal of cut material was ineffective in reducing woody cover and tended to promote non-native herbaceous species, this treatment should be avoided.