Photo: Yellow-headed Blackbird
"Its brilliant yellow head, together with its loud, rusty-hinge call, make the Yellow-headed Blackbird a conspicuous presence in western wetlands." Learn more about this and other birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. Photo courtesy of Tom Grey.
In The News
Kansas Ranchers Striking Balance with Prescribed Fire
With spring comes new growth on the prairie. But too much old growth or residue is not always good for prairie habitat, the wildlife it supports or for livestock. A solution for many landowners is prescribed fire.
Prescribed fire lets landowners combat old growth while specifically targeting invasive plant species and helps stimulate growth of warm-season grasses and forbs making them more palatable to livestock and improves habitat for many wildlife species.
In Kansas there is a growing interest and trend in prescribed fire with ranchers and farmers, and the Kansas Grazing Land Coalition (KGLC), which was founded to help regenerate Kansas grazing lands, is responding with increased education and outreach.
“Prescribed fire is a key issue for sustaining long-term rangeland health,” said Tim Christian, coordinator of KGLC. “If you want to manage your grasslands properly, fire has to be part of that. Most native grasses and forbs respond well to fire and wildlife has adapted. It makes habitat better if completed properly. It’s also much cheaper than chemicals or mechanical cutting to provide brush control.”
Prescribed fire is meant to deal with a specific problem or condition. There are many benefits to prescribed fires if used properly. Native prairies that are burned are actually more productive for ranchers and farmers. Cattle gain more from burned than from non-burned pastures. This increase in cattle gains is a result of increased forage quality and intake from cattle grazing on these burn areas.
The prairie cannot exist without fire. But annual or frequent burns may be detrimental to habitat and wildlife, even though it may benefit livestock. The ideal balance for grasslands is long-term fire rotation. Depending on the grassland type, rotations may be as long as seven years. This is frequent enough to keep the woody invasive species under control for ranchers and farmers but not damage the grasslands ecosystem.
If managed properly and with a longer cycle rotation of at least five years, prescribed fire actually can be favorable to species such as prairie chickens, various songbirds and Northern Bobwhite Quail.
“Everyone needs help getting started burning so education is important because it’s tricky with wind speeds and humidity,” said Bill Sproul, a KGLC board member and rancher in Sedan, Kansas. “I truly believe that to manage this grassland fire is needed. Economics drives us. But wildlife is an indicator of the health of the prairie and long-term to keep the ecosystem sustainable you don’t want to over burn or overgraze.”
“We like what the KGLC is doing and are happy to help out with our Capacity Grant program,” said PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter.
The KGLC works with smaller multi-county ranches, farm groups and local agencies to educate people who have an interest in using prescribed fire on their land. Several agencies and associations KGLC is working with on the local level include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Cooperative Extension Service and the Red Hills Prescribed Burning Association.
Education and outreach by these local groups includes workshops, tours and field days with an emphasis on the value of prescribed burning. This provides landowners with guidelines and safety techniques. KGLC also is working to develop a statewide prescribed burn council to help enhance and coordinate efforts. The first planning meeting is May 13.
Learn more about prescribed fire in an interview with Kansas rancher Ted Alexander.