MANHATTAN Kansas State University researchers have completed a 20-year study that looks at the consequences of burning Flint Hills prairie at different times of the year. It finds that burning outside of the current late spring time frame has no measurable negative consequences for the prairie and, in fact, may have multiple benefits.
The study was conducted by Gene Towne, research associate and the Konza Prairie Biological Station fire chief, and Joseph Craine, research assistant professor, both in the Division of Biology. They recently published the study, "Ecological consequences of shifting the timing of burning tallgrass prairie," in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE. The study is the most comprehensive on seasonal burning ever conducted.
The Flint Hills are 82,000 square miles of unplowed tallgrass prairie that stretch from eastern Kansas to north-central Oklahoma. The region is an important area for grazing cattle. In a typical year, ranchers annually burn thousands of acres of grassland to reduce the abundance of undesirable trees and shrubs while promoting nutritionally rich grass for that summer's grazing.
Currently, burning of Flint Hills prairie is typically concentrated in late April. The time frame stems from research conducted more than 40 years ago.
"Burning in the Flint Hills has been a scientific and political issue for at least 80 years," Craine said. "Burning the prairie is ecologically important to Kansas grasslands and to ranchers in the region. But when everybody burns at the same time, it becomes a source of contention for cities downwind of the smoke and creates legal issues when clean air standards are exceeded."
The PLOS ONE study uses 20 years' worth of burning data collected at the university's Konza Prairie Biological Station. In 1994 large, replicated watersheds of the native prairie were set aside. Over a 20-year period, each section was burned annually
|Contact: Joseph Craine|
Kansas State University