Prescribed Pasture Burning with Carol Blocksome

(Carol) My name is Carol Blocksome and I am a range management specialist at Kansas State University in the department of horticulture, forestry and recreation resource. I work largely with prescribed fire and smoke. Fire is an important part of the ecosystem of the Great Plains. In particular it is a part of the ecosystem of the Flint Hills, which is the largest remaining tract of Tallgrass Prairie in the United States. Tallgrass Prairie will not exist without fire, a fire is not optional. If you wish to have prairie in the Tallgrass region you’re going to have to burn. So we need to take really good care of what we’ve been blessed with, and fire and grazing are an integral part of maintaining this ecosystem. In general most people try to burn in the spring, and this is based on stock or cattle gains. So if you are raising stock or cattle the research shows that burning in late spring, which is generally about the middle of April, is the prime, ideal time to burn for weight gains. For other purposes this is not necessarily the only time that you could burn, but in Kansas traditionally we do burn this time of the year in the Flint Hills. Because these burns are on private lands it’s up to the individual land owner or operator to decide when and how often to burn and what is the best management for that piece of land. Because each land owner is making the decision when to burn there is no coordination between the burns. Because there is this lack of coordination between fires when the weather conditions turn right a lot of producers light up all at once, and this can cause air quality problems. If you’re burning 30 thousand, 40, 50 thousand acres in a single day, regardless of the fact that it’s spread out throughout the Flint Hills, that amount of fire can create a huge smoke cloud. Smoke is not like water. The constituents of the smoke flume hang together much better than a drop of something in a stream, where it’s rapidly carried away and diluted. The smoke can travel as a cloud, and that’s where we get the smoke problems, is when the smoke is transferred to a site where it causes a lot of problems because it stays near on the ground. So part of the smoke management plan for the Flint Hills is to reduce these days of concentration to smoke that cause the health problems by showing models of when would be a good time to burn. Each year K-State Extension runs a series of burn workshops across the state. These workshops are very basic and they will tell you the minimum that you need to know to burn. Please, consider attending one of the burn workshops next fall and winter. These generally are held between January and March. If you want to find out more about prescribed fire please check out the website.

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