• Last modified 111 days ago (April 4, 2024)


Burning season is upon the Flint Hills

Staff writer

Seeing smoke on the horizon is common this time of year because the season of burning in the Flint Hills is under way.

The practice of burning pastures in the Flint Hills does more than reduce swathing.

Burning rids land of invasive plants such as eastern red cedar and eliminates old thatch. It also provides cattle with fresh grass for grazing, helping them gain weight more rapidly.

Preserving the area’s tallgrass prairie relies on burning, and about 2.2 million acres across the Flint Hills are burned each year.

March to April is the peak season for burning.

Rancher Chuck McLinden, who was part of the original group that developed Marion County’s 2017 burn resolution, said he burns pastures both for himself and others. Most of the other members of the committee were fire chiefs.

“I do burn my own pastures, I burn the ones I rent, and the ones I take care of for other people,” McLinden said.

McLinden burns between 25,000 and 30,000 acres in a typical year, usually in a span of five to six weeks.

“I kind of insisted on being on that committee to make it fair to everyone,” he said. “When it comes to grass burning, the fire department wants to put them out, and I want to put them out, but at the right time,” he said.

Since burning off old grass and removing invasive plants is important, McLinden said people should be aware how much burning is done before moving to the county.

“Anybody who moves into the Flint Hills ought to take a written test so they know why we have the fires,” he said. “People ought to do their research.”

Before a pasture is set ablaze, people doing prescribed burns check both the fire index and weather forecasts. How hard the wind is blowing that day is another factor in whether to burn a pasture.

Burners also pay heed to the state health department’s smoke management plan.

“The Kansas Department of Health and Environment a few years ago instituted the smoke management plan to try to keep the smoke out of the urban areas as much as possible,” he said.

McLinden said the National Weather Service fire index has become a useful tool in planning burns.

McLinden said 90% of burning is about the wind — how hard and which direction it’s blowing.

“That’s where that smoke management plan comes in, and I know there are a lot of guys who take that into consideration,” he said.

It’s hard to completely manage smoke because thousands of acres could be burning at the same time, producing heavy smoke, he said.

He always figures two hours for each pasture he burns, but that depends on many conditions, he said.

One such condition is whether the pasture is isolated and needs a back burn to prevent fire from spreading to adjoining property or whether a large area is to be burned.

“I’ve got places when all the neighbors want to burn, and we hardly have to do any back burns,” McLinden said.

His father and grandfather lived in the Flint Hills and burned pastures. For centuries, Native Americans burned grass to preserve the Flint Hills.

“The Flint Hills is a fire culture,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re kind of losing that culture.

“The biggest reason is liability. You’ve got too many people who are sue-happy. If you get it a little on their land, they’ll sue you.”

With younger people moving away, people are losing the knowledge of managing fires, he said.

Kansas State University is studying fall and winter burning.

“March and April is the best time if you’re trying to get the best cattle gains,” McLinden said. “That’s the way to get the best protein gains on new grass.”

Burning in the fall or winter is better for killing unwanted trees, McLinden said.

Last modified April 4, 2024