The San Antonio River Authority managed a prescribed burn to improve the ecology of the river through the Mission Reach section on the city’s South Side on Tuesday.
Justin Krobot, the superintendent of the Mission Reach section of the river for SARA, said the burn targeted larger woody growth that can cast shade and kill native grasses.
He said the burn also thins native grasses that became so thick they died out.
"(Native) grasses that are burned put on seven times more seed," Krobot said. "Then of that seed that’s out there on these new grasses, it’s more viable, meaning that more new grasses will come up from each one of those seed grasses.”
The burn also chars and kills non-native invasive grasses, like Johnson grass.
He said not only will new grass sprout through the charred ground, but SARA will also give Mother Nature some help by reseeding grasses in the prescribed burn areas.
Krobot said grass is much better than bushes and small trees at absorbing and filtering polluted urban runoff before it can reach the river after a rainstorm.
“They’ll be able to store it in the roots and that will help with that infiltration and overall reduce runoff, so that’s one of our goals,” he said.
Krobot said plans are in place to conduct the burns twice a year, weather permitting, at key times in the growth cycle of grass. One is scheduled in the fall after the grass becomes dormant, and one in the spring to rid the ground of thatch and make room for new grass sprouts.
Wildlife, mainly birds like the commonly spotted Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, benefit from the native grasses and feed on the insects they attract, SARA officials said.
Public trails along the river were closed due to smoke created by the burn that was done by Raven Environmental Services, a contractor hired by SARA.
The river banks between Southcross and Military Drives were the focus of the burn, according to a map released by SARA.
The San Antonio Fire Department had trucks and crews on the scene to keep the fire contained if needed.
The National Park Service, keeper of the nearby historic San Antonio Missions, was also kept informed about plans for the prescribed burn, according to a news release.
Krobot said public trails would reopen on Wednesday and by spring the public should see the work pay off in the form of healthier and thicker native grasses. The water quality of the river is not healthy enough for swimming and there is a $500 dollar fine against it, according to SARA officials.
They say kayaking, fishing and bird-watching is allowed and so is walking and running. There are 6 miles of shared hike and bike trails in the 400 acres that make up the Mission Reach segment.
Benches, picnic tables, pavilions, bike stations, interpretive signs, water fountains and restrooms can also be found in the ecologically restored area.