TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Brendan Annetts, a second-year student in Assiniboine Community College’s land and water management program, keeps an eye on a controlled burn at the Riverbank Discovery Centre on Wednesday afternoon. The burn was orchestrated by Ducks Unlimited, which partnered with classes from ACC and Brandon University to teach students about controlled burns.
Controlled burning of seven acres of native grasses at the Riverbank Discovery Centre got Assiniboine Community College and Brandon University students out of the classroom and into the line of fire.
A controlled burn takes place at the Riverbank Discovery Centre on Wednesday afternoon. The burn was orchestrated by Ducks Unlimited, which partnered with classes from Assiniboine Community College and Brandon University to teach students about controlled burns. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Kristine Buhler, a second-year student in Assiniboine Community College’s land and water management program, uses a drip torch to light a controlled burn at the Riverbank Discovery Centre on Wednesday afternoon. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
"Normally they might see it in a text book or see it on a slide but they’re here, they’re seeing how fast it burns, they’re hearing the sounds, they’re learning about ... the process of fire and what’s happening as it’s going on," said Brandon University geography department associate professor Chris Malcolm.
"When I discuss these kinds of issues in the classroom, they’ve got much more context now to understand it."
Nearly 20 students from BU and ACC took part in the exercise, hosted by Ducks Unlimited. Some students even got to start portions of the fire with the help of a drip torch.
"It was pretty exciting," ACC land and water management student Kristine Buhler said moments after lighting a portion of the field on fire. "It’s better than anything you can learn from a text book, actually being able to do it."
The exercise also gave students a chance to put into practice what they’ve been learning about the positive effects field burning has on regeneration.
"It’s old growth and now they’re looking to bring in new growth from the same species," Buhler said.
Burning the acres of native grasses that surround the Discovery Centre is done every five to seven years, according to Ducks Unlimited biologist Robin Hamilton, who also lead the exercise for students.
Although lighting a field of dry grass on fire can be dangerous at times, with enough experience you learn to appreciate the art of it, Hamilton said.
"As much of a science as it is, there is an art to it and you utilize the fire as another employee basically if you use it properly," he said. "The whole concept behind burning is to rejuvenate the native grasses ... and that’s how a lot of these native grasses have established over time."
More than 15,000 acres of native grasses cover southwestern Manitoba and it’s important to burn them to rejuvenate the species, he said.
"We do this as a regular exercise for the last 20 years at least so it’s quite routine for us," he said. "It’s all about control and containment."
As always, safety is a big concern when it comes to grass fires, but Hamilton said he enjoyed having extra bodies on hand during Wednesday’s field burning.
"There’s a lot of skepticism involved with burning just because of the ignorance associated with it so it’s always great to get them out here and utilize their expertise and have their assistance."
Hands on learning experiences like these are also great for the resumé, ACC land and water management student Morgan Koss said.
"It puts what you’ve you learnt in the book to actual work in real life and know the basics of it and understand better than what you can learn from a textbook."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 17, 2013