A Critical Examination of Timing of Burning in the Kansas Flint Hills
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CitationGene Towne, E., & Craine, J. M. (2016). A Critical Examination of Timing of Burning in the Kansas Flint Hills. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 69(1), 28–34.
PublisherSociety for Range Management
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
AbstractFrequent burning is a crucial ecological and economic component of the Kansas Flint Hills. Although burning is important for the preservation of tallgrass prairie and improving livestock production, it has become a controversial societal issue because of its potential impact on air quality standards. Over the past 80 years, recommendations on burning in Kansas have ranged from total fire exclusion to burning only in late April; and for the past 40 years, the concept that burning should only occur in late spring has become ingrained in the cultural practices of rangeland management. Yet the scientific basis for these recommendations has received little rigorous scrutiny. Herein, we critically review the research on dormant-season burning in the Flint Hills that formed the foundation for modern burn practices in Kansas. Close examination of the historical data does not support the tenet that burning must be limited to a narrow window in late spring. Many conclusions of the research that led to recommending burning only in late spring were ambiguous, not subjected to statistical analysis, or were influenced by an antiburn bias. Current research suggests that timing of a burn is not as critical as ranchers have been led to believe and burning does not have to be restricted to a narrow window in late April. There is an absence of scientific evidence that burning earlier in the spring adversely affects forage production, plant species composition, soil moisture, or cattle weight gain. Although there is a need for research on the consequences of burning grazed pastures at different times of the year, expanding the window for burning earlier in the dormant season should help alleviate air quality issues downwind of the burned areas and potentially be beneficial to ranchers. © 2016 Society for Range Management. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.