The outcome of this research will result in an improved understanding of the conditions under which rangeland burning contributes to air quality impairments in the region's cities. A significant component of this project will be application of the knowledge and management strategies generated to prevent or mitigate air pollution events in regional urban areas. Landowners and ranchers in the area are motivated to take voluntary action to mitigate air pollution events in order to prevent regulatory action by USEPA. Fire is a necessary management tool to maintain the tallgrass prairie; burn bans certainly would endanger not only the sustainability of the native tallgrass prairie, but also the economic viability of ranching in the area.
In the educational component of this work, we will:
- Share the results with critical stakeholders
- Use the results to develop improved burn management strategies, in concert with stakeholders, which will minimize the risk of air quality impairments while maintaining other goals of preserving the native tallgrass prairie, ensuring safety for people and property, and supporting economically viable livestock production
- Inform the public of the value of fire as a management tool for the native tallgrass prairie, and the steps being taken to achieve the goals of wildlife conservation, prairie preservation, safety, economic production, and environmental quality (water and air)
- Incorporate results and strategies into extension training programs for ranchers
- Incorporate results and strategies into academic courses on rangeland management at KSU
The Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service will provide the leadership for the educational component and will collaborate with other appropriate federal, state, and local agencies, and NGOs to deliver the information and educational programs. The primary targeted audience will be the ranchers, landowners, and land managers of the thirty counties that comprise the native tallgrass prairie region of Kansas. Additionally information will be distributed statewide and educational programs delivered to other critical stakeholders, including:
- Ranchers, landowners, and land managers and relevant producer groups such as KS Livestock Association, Tallgrass Legacy Alliance, and KS Grazers Association
- State and federal agencies such as USEPA, USDA-NRCS, KS Dept. of Health and Environment (KDHE), KS Dept. of Agriculture (KDA), KS Dept. of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), and State Fire Marshal
- Local government authorities such as county commissioners, city managers, county fire marshals, and local fire departments
- NGOs focused on prairie and wildlife conservation such as the Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, and KS Wildlife Federation
- Larger cities in the region that are impacted or potentially impacted such as Kansas City, Tulsa, Omaha, and Wichita
- The public
A stakeholder advisory group has already been formed to discuss this issue and plan new strategies for prescribed burning. This advisory group is comprised of representatives from K-State Research and Extension, USDA-NRCS, USEPA-Region 7; KDHE, KDA, KLA, and some Flint Hills ranchers. A leadership team of two extension specialists and two extension county agents has been formed to plan and deliver the educational program in concert with this advisory group. We anticipate utilizing some of the following approaches/mechanisms for delivery of the educational program (the final choices for action steps will be made in concert with stakeholders):
• “Burn Schools”, an educational program to train ranchers, land owners, land managers, local fire officials, and others, in fire management and meeting all of the goals of using fire as a management tool; these training programs will be offered in winter and early spring prior to the burning season
• Produce educational materials that will be used by extension county/district agents and specialists and other collaborating agencies and groups through newsletters, radio interviews, news releases, and other publications. Most county extension agents and many producer groups already have newsletters that can accommodate information on improved fire management. Most rural newspapers are also very willing to publish stories that relate to both the local economy and local public health and safety.
• “Coffee Shop” meetings with producers to discuss burning and strategies for achieving safe, efficient burns with minimal air quality impacts
• Regular updates, fire hazard warnings, and other timely information delivered electronically to the local level weekly during the burning “season”
• Host a workshop for federal and state agencies to share the results and develop strategies for ensuring compliance with federal air quality guidelines
• Development of a website with comprehensive information on fire as a tool for management of native tallgrass prairie, including all aspects of prairie preservation, wildlife conservation, safety, cattle production, and air and water quality
• A public information campaign that informs the public of the value of the prairie and the critical role of fire in its management and preservation, including strategies for minimizing air quality impairments. The existing K-State Research and Extension News and Communications team and network will be utilized to accomplish this goal. Outreach to the public and stakeholders will be accomplished primarily by news releases through K-State Research and Extension, radio interviews with the K-State Radio Network, e-mails to clientele, and in extension publications. No paid advertising outlets will be used.
Outcomes of the educational program will be evaluated each year through county agent interviews and surveys and documentation of changing practices with respect to burning in the counties affected through the remote sensing information and the frequency of air quality impairments over time.
Finally, the information and strategies developed in this project will be incorporated into the academic courses in rangeland management at K-State. Until now, air quality has not been an issue of concern. This new information will put air quality protection on equal footing with prairie preservation, wildlife habitat, livestock production, and safety as goals for burning management on native tallgrass prairie rangelands.