Pilot Program To Help Ranchers Manage Annual Burning

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Flint Hills farmers and ranchers are feeling the pressure to reduce air quality problems this spring during the annual burning of the prairie. They're voluntarily taking part in a pilot program they hope can help them avoid mandatory regulations that could be placed on annual grassland burning in the Flint Hills.

The Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan's pilot project still allows Flint Hills ranchers to burn their grasslands, but hopefully without smoking out folks who live in urban areas.

"We burn because it's an absolute necessity. We can't maintain the prairie without it," Mike Holder, a Kansas State University extension agent, said.

Mike Holder's been advising Chase County ranchers on agricultural issues for some 30-plus years as the an extension agent. Now, he's trying to get all of them to log on to a web site, www.ksfire.org, before doing their spring grassland burning.

Ranchers in Chase and Greenwood counties will be using a computer modeling tool, and fire management practices as part of smoke management plan approved by state environmental officials.

"A lot of the success of the plan is going to hinge around the use of the web site," Holder said. The web site has current weather information, and allows ranchers to find out where the smoke from their burn is likely to go. It also tells them how well the smoke will disperse.

The site also lets ranchers know the potential smoke contribution to major cities on particular burn days. The land owner just inputs the amount of grass is to be burned. "This tells me where my smoke is predicted to go, according to the weather prediction. And, it's going to miss Wichita tomorrow, so we're okay," Holder said while demonstrating the site. "This is a learning year...a pilot county," he added. "We're learning how it works, and what we need to do to make it work better. So the more information we can gather, the better."

The project will be successful if by using it, ranchers continue burning their grasslands, without adversely affecting urban areas like Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City.

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