Friday, April 22, 2016

Fields Afire !

Recently I had the great opportunity to document a prairie burn in the Kansas Flint Hills

The ranches in this grassland country use prescribed burns to clear the pastures of the dead grass from the previous season. This allows for more and better new grass and provides control the weeds and brush.

For the photographer this is an environment of heat, smoke, sharp contrasts in light, and sometimes smoke in your eyes.

The burning is highly controlled to provide the desired effects while minimizing risk.

Adding the light of fire to the shadows of dusk make for some striking images

A Conservation Discussion - for the readers with interest in preservation of natural environments, you may be concerned about the effects of fire on the prairie. No need to be concerned! Fire on these lands are a natural and beneficial event. See these articles from the Nature Conservancy and National Geographic.

The prairies of the Flint Hills and the larger Great Plains region would not have existed as wide open spaces without the actions of fire. Fire maintains the open nature of the grasslands. Without fire woody species sprout into the open spaces and eventually crowd out the grasses. You may have heard or read about the large and destructive wildfires in Kansas and Oklahoma this spring. These were in areas where controlled burning is not practiced. The invasive red cedars were a big part of the fuel for these fires.

You may be thinking that this is a practice that was introduced by the settlers from the east. Not True! Native Americans used fire for much the same reason that the ranchers do today. Burned areas grow more and better new grass. In this historic case the increase in new grass attracted more bison and other grazing species, which were a prime food source for the tribes. Additionally the grazing animals prefer the shorter grass areas because there is less cover for the predators to approach undetected. And in the geographic history of these lands prairie fire, sparked by lightning, are part of the geologic record.

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