Prairie fires and why we burn the grass

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – With spring on the way and summer not far behind, grass and prairie fires are becoming a common sight on the horizon. Have you ever wondered why these fires happen? Here is a brief explanation of how prairie fires start and why farmers and ranchers burn the grass.

Indians routinely burned the prairie to lure bison, which were attracted to the fresh grass that sprouted from scorched hills, and Mother Nature also burned the prairies with lightning strikes and forest fires. As a result, a lush but fragile grass ecosystem is created that becomes dependent on fire to maintain a treeless ecosystem.

Farmers burn their fields to remove crops that are already growing and to help the crops that are about to rise. These burns are often referred to as “mandatory burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

Due to its rocky soil, the early settlers were unable to plow the Flint Hills, which led to the proliferation of cattle ranching in contrast to the cultivated areas typical of the Great Plains. These ranches rely on annual controlled burns, carried out by ranchers every spring, to renew the prairie grasses for the cattle to graze.

The Flint Hills are home to over 275,000 cattle owned and looked after by local ranchers. The Flint Hills pastureland is burned in the spring to provide better forage for these cattle. Burning also minimizes the risk of forest fires.

Burning also reduces fuel pollution in millions of acres of grassland. This helps reduce the risk of devastating and potentially fatal forest fires by reducing the fuel load on parched grass. Fire also removes old thatched roofs, which can slow or stunt the growth of native grasses.