Prairie flowers and grasses dominate the landscape along the San Antonio River.
Prairie flowers and grasses dominate the landscape along the San Antonio River. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio River Authority will intentionally set ablaze on Tuesday three patches of restored prairie on the Mission Reach, marking the organization’s first use of fire to improve the health of this ecosystem.

The controlled burns will help regenerate native tallgrass prairie grasses and flowers and help keep out small trees, shrubs, and unwanted plants, said Justin Krobot, the River Authority’s landscape superintendent for the Mission Reach

“It is a temporary interruption of the growth of those grasses,” Krobot said at a public meeting May 9. “It helps with the suppression of the non-natives and helps with the growth of the native species.”

The areas initially designated for burning are a 7.4-acre patch west of Mission Parkway just upstream of the Espada Dam, along with 2.1 acres on the opposite side of the river. Another 3.5 acres on the west side of the river upstream of Loop 410 will also burn.

Raven Environmental Services, a River Authority consultant, will perform the burn. In Texas, only people certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture can make use of fire in this way.

The work will likely prompt road closures along Mission Parkway and trail detours in the area between Southeast Military Highway and Mission Road, River Authority officials said.

The burn is part of the River Authority’s ongoing work to manage the native habitat restored since the Mission Reach, an 8-mile stretch from South Alamo Street to Mission Espada, was completed in 2013.

Since then, River Authority specialists have logged 39 different species of native trees and shrubs and more than 60 species of grasses and wildflowers growing in the area.

Invasive species are also “rampant,” Krobot said. Some of the most troublesome include King Ranch bluestem, Bermuda grass, and Johnson grass.

Krobot spoke about the burns at a meeting at Stinson Municipal Airport that drew about five people other than reporters and River Authority officials.

At the meeting, Krobot showed before-and-after slides of unsanctioned fires that broke out along sections of the Mission Reach reach since 2015.

“It was blackened,” he said. “Within a few months, usually within a couple weeks, it was restoring life and the area was looking generally better than it was before.”

Brady Alexander, who attended the meeting to represent the Hot Wells Neighborhood Association, said he had spoken to property owners along the bank who were not opposed to the burns but asked for advance notice.

“I hope y’all do it,” he said. “We do it at our ranch…It’s a great management technique if it’s done correctly.”

This story was originally published on May 9, 2018. It has been updated.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.