Tonight as we came home the Flint Hills were ablaze with fire. Nothing to worry about this is a springtime ritual that has been going on since God created the prairie. It used to be started by lightening but now fire is one of the most important tools of a Flint Hills rancher. However, that could be in jeopardy due to a short-sighted approach by our friends at the EPA.
For those of you who regularly read this blog, you know I don't often make political statements, well until tonight. The Obama administration has many questionable appointments, judgment calls and alliances when it comes to agriculture. Ties that very well could hurt our ability to produce the food and fiber the world needs. Their short-sighted approach to pasture burning is one.
As I stated earlier, fire is necessary to maintain the tall grass prairie of the Flint Hills. Without fire, our fragile eco-system will transform into shrubs and eventually a forest. The use of fire keeps the trees and brush confined to areas along creeks. Without fire, we would be forced to use expensive chemical weed and brush control to maintain our native prairie grass. This does not even mention the economic benefit to burning pasture. It has been proven that ranchers gain $35 to $4o per animal on burned versus unburned pasture. In these days of razor thin profit margins, that is huge when it comes to being able to stay on the ranch. However, economic benefits are not what I am focusing on tonight. It is the maintenance and preservation of our last tall grass prairie.
Because of three instances, three days, in the last 6 years, of air quality in Kansas City and Wichita reaching what EPA calls an unacceptable level, our ability to burn the native tall grass prairie may be restricted. The EPA is focusing on this very rare occurrence, which may improve air quality in the short run on a very few days and ultimately cause greater long term danger.
The majority of the Flint Hills are burned in the middle part of April. This was not decided by random chance but has been proven by research conducted by our land grant universities to provide the greatest benefit to the prairie. The fire does many things. It removes the dead litter allowing the soil to warm faster and the grass to grow faster. The grass that is generated is more palatable to the cattle. Think of it this way. Do you prefer asparagus that is fresh andtender or the shoots that have been on the store shelves and are woody and stringy. Cattle are no different. In addition, woody, invasive plants cannot tolerate fire and are more easily controlled through the use of prescribed burning. Finally, the removal of the fuel load lessens the chance of catastrophic wild fires. Ask the people in California or Montana if that is important.
As you can see, fire is absolutely necessary for the survival of our last vestige of tall grass prairie. How do I know, well my master's degree is in agronomy with an emphasis in range management, I grew up in the Flint Hills and I am passionate about making sure this fragile prairie and my equally fragile ranch are here for my grandkids. So you need to decide who do you trust, a bureaucrat who has a hidden agenda, or the rancher, who has roots several generations deep and a love of the prairie. If you are on my side, please contact your congressional delegation and tell them you support ranchers and their ability to use fire in the Flint Hills.