Land Managers Encouraged to Use Prescribed Burning as Effective Tool for Conservation, Wildfire MitigationThu, 25 Jul 2019 12:24:07 CDT
Cattle producers in Oklahoma and across the Southern Plains have sustained significant losses over the past few years to devastating wildfires that have reminded us of how intense and unpredictable Mother Nature’s fury can be. In addition, producers and land managers have also worked tirelessly in the battle against ever-encroaching invasive plant species like the Eastern Redcedar. During the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association Convention held this past week in Norman, Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Associate Farm Director Carson Horn sat down with Seth Coffey, a consultant with the Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association and volunteer firefighter, to discuss how prescribed burning can help mitigate both the risk of uncontrollable wildfires and the spread of undesirable vegetation. You can listen to their complete conversation by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
According to Coffey, prescribed burns mimic nature and can be used as a natural tool to keep invasive plant species at bay.
“Historically, if you look at tree rings and different research that’s been conducted, this area from South Texas all the way up into Kansas and Nebraska - it burned every two or three years,” Coffey explained. “Our job, what we try to do, is incorporate that back into people’s management plan because a lot of rangeland is becoming overgrown with a lot of invasive species - and it’s because we’re not burning.”
Additionally, prescribed burning also helps reduce the fuel load of a given area that will help prevent any potential wildfires from getting out of control.
“Indirectly it does help with wildfire (more as a preventative measure),” he said. “It’s a great tool for fuel reduction. So, if we get a dry lightening storm or maybe a blow-out on the highway - we’re not going to have to go out and fight a major wildfire because hopefully we will have already burned some of that fuel off.
“Personally, my family on our ranch, we always try to do one or two summer burns a year. The purpose of that and why we do that is so if we do have a wildfire break out that following spring, we’ve got some ‘black’ already that our cattle can go and stand in so that when the fire gets there - they’re safe.”
Despite the common perception that prescribed burning should be a seasonal activity, Coffey is a strong advocate for year-round burning, something he says the association and other experts are pushing as well. The benefits of year-round burning are many. Coffey points out that most people do not consider the environmental impact that burning has when done all at once - specifically in regard to the resulting smoke accumulation. According to Coffey, the problem is quite severe particularly in Kansas City and Chicago where the residual smoke of fires burning across the Flint Hills of Kansas eventually wind up. At times, the density of the smoke can effectively shut a city down when authorities deem the ozone risk too high. Spreading out the number of fires throughout the year can help alleviate some of that.
Furthermore, burning throughout the year is not only safer, it is more effective too when done during the summer months rather than the traditional spring timeframe. Coffey explains that the true goal of burning brush is not necessarily to scorch the plants, but to “burst” the cells of those plants to ensure their ultimate demise and limit any chances of recovery or survival. In order to do this, he says the surrounding air must reach 140F. This is much easier to accomplish during the summer months when the ambient temperature is already 90+ degrees. Given the time of year, too, Coffey says first responders are generally not as busy and readily on-hand to offer assistance if needed. The fact that vegetation is green and lush during this time of year also helps to limit any potential chances that a fire might grow out of control.
As a prescribed burn consultant, Coffey and his counterparts at the OPBA, help land managers develop a conservation plan that outlines how and when they should conduct a burn. The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA), is an incorporated nonprofit, created to support local burn associations and develop new ones across Oklahoma. OPBA's goals are to increase landowners’ capacity to do neighbor to neighbor prescribed burns for reduction of fuel loads, wildlife habitat improvement, increasing grassland production and enhancing public health and safety of all Oklahomans. To learn more about the OPBA or to contact a consultant near you, visit their website at www.ok-pba.org.
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