Friday, January 8, 2010

Fire and the EPA

I think the Flint Hills are the best place to live and raise cattle in the whole world. The Flint Hills are the last vestige of tallgrass prairie in the world. It is a very unique ecosystem and a very fragile one at that.

As a rancher in the Flint Hills it is one of my duties to preserve it and pass it on to other generations. Tallgrass prairie is a very unique ecosystem in that it is not a stable state. What do I mean by not a stable state? Without proper management small shrubs will start to encroach and eventually the prairie will become a woodland.

There are only three ways to stop this encroachment. One is mechanical, or cutting the shrubs and treating the stumps. This is virtually impossible and requires a lot of chemical brush control. The second method is chemical. This option is both expensive and not one I prefer because of the chemical. I would guess I am like most ranchers in that I prefer a natural chemical free solution.

That brings me to my third option, prescribed burning. Prescribed burning is more than just throwing out a match. We time the fire to control a certain invasive species of brush or weed. It also improves the quality of the grass for our cattle, making it more nutritious. Fire, at the right time of the year, is vital for the preservation of the Flint Hills.

So what is the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gotten involved because our prescribed burning, at times, pushes Kansas City's air quality to an unacceptable level. Don't get me wrong, I am very aware and sympathetic to those with health problems that air quality is very important to. However, maintaining our option to burn is absolutely necessary for the Flint Hills.

The EPA wants ranchers to burn at different times of the year, but that is not a good option. Too early in the year causes run-off and this increases erosion. Try to burn too late in the year and it is hard to get the pasture to burn. In short, we burn during April because time and university research have proved it is the best time to burn native range.

What is the solution? I am not sure, but I do know that air quality is very important to all of us and the ability to burn native range is absolutely critical to maintain native tallgrass prairie. So no matter what we all need to work together to find a solution that is beneficial to both parties and I am pretty sure that doesn't mean an edict from a government agency.

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