Once Iowa, and a greater part of the Midwest, was covered in a vast grassland. These prairies provided habitat for large herds of bison, elk, and many other types of wildlife. The prairies' deep root system developed the nutrient rich, black soil that we use today for our successful cropland agriculture.
Today less than .1% of Iowa's prairie system is left. Conservation efforts have worked to preserve, restore, and replace some of Iowa's natural rich ecosystem.
When the prairies were rich, fire was an integral part of maintaining their health. A lightning strike or spark set by native people would clear large swaths of the land covered by dry grasses. Fire encourages health and growth by opening the area up for forbs and flowers to grow before the tall grasses dominate again. It rids the prairie of invasive species that are not adapted to being fire resistant. It also encourages new growth, as some seeds require fire to germinate.
Boone County has several areas that feature prairie, either restored or planted. The Conservation Board use prescribed fire to improve prairie health and mimic the natural processes that maintain the landscape and habitat. The burning season usually occurs in late fall and early spring. So if you are driving through our areas and see smoke or burned sections, know it's likely intentional!