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Shaker Village burn targets fescue

PLEASANT HILL — Anyone who came within miles of Shaker Village on Tuesday would have thought it was burning to the ground. But the huge plumes of smoke rising from this part of Mercer County signaled "goodbye cows, hello songbirds and wildflowers."

About 300 acres that until recently was pasture was burned. It had been covered with fescue, a type of grass that is good for livestock, but not wildlife.

"It's especially bad for small game ... because it grows in a thick mat on the ground — quail chicks and other ground-nesting birds just can't get through it," said Ben Robinson, a small-game biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Robinson was in charge of the two dozen people from his department and The Nature Conservancy who conducted the prescribed burn.

Fescue is a tough plant, Robinson said, and it will quickly re-sprout from its roots. When that happens, it will be zapped with herbicide, then replaced by native grasses and wildflowers. Some areas will be left unplanted to see what kind of native seeds might still be in the soil.

About 60 acres that were burned Tuesday had been converted from fescue to Indian grass and little blue stem in 2004, but was getting another treatment because the fescue was creeping back.

A partnership with Fish and Wildlife will allow people from that agency to use the village for research and training in areas such as songbird identification, said Don Pelly, who is Shaker Village's naturalist.

Shaker Village, which has 3,000 acres, is not doing away with its farming operation entirely, Pelly said.

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