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Restored tallgrass prairie blackened in Nebraska

- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - More than 60 acres of restored tallgrass prairie has been burned to ensure the native cover continues to thrive at the Homestead National Monument of America in southeast Nebraska.

Thursday's burn was the first since 2011, park superintendent Mark Engler said Thursday, blaming drought and budget issues for the lack of burns in 2012 and 2013.

Jesse Bolli, resource management specialist for the monument, told the Beatrice Daily News (http://bit.ly/1jQmaye ) that such burns are essential to the life of the prairie grasses.

"The tallgrass prairie evolved with burn," Bolli said. "If we don't burn it on a fairly regular basis, the thatch will build up and suppress the native grasses."

Secondly, burning eradicates exotic species such as smooth brome that could reduce biodiversity. The fires also help control unwanted wooded species, Bolli said.

"Historically, they're part of the tallgrass prairie, but they're taking more than their fair share. We have about 100 acres here. Our goal is to keep the wooded species at 15 acres or less. Right now, they're about 30 acres."

Engler said the burns also bring out the colors in the prairie grasses.

"I know that in the past - and we would expect it with this burn - when the grass starts coming back up after the burn, the color associated with the grass will be much more vibrant, much brighter," Engler said.

Homestead National Monument of America sits four miles west of Beatrice, along Nebraska Highway 4.

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