Protecting the Prairie


September 6th, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn (RFD-TV) New research looks to dispute the timing of burning practices. The research by Kansas State University shows late summer burnings could protect the prairie from weeds better than spring burnings.

KSU animal science professor, KC Olson, says, “Most seeds, particularly native seeds, have trouble germinating unless they go through a process called scarification. That means the seed coat gets scratched just a little bit, and that allows it to rupture. Fire, as it turns out, is an excellent scarifier for that mature seed that’s now laying on the soil surface. So fire passes over, the seed coat cracks, and the plant is able to germinate. The reason that the late summer fire works so well is that the plant is physically vulnerable.”

Currently, ranchers in the area spend millions trying to control the spread of the weed with herbicides, a costly solution compared to prescribed burning.

Although there are still questions to be answered in a shift to a late summer burn, one immediate effect could be a lessening of the amount of smoke in the air experienced by some Central U.S. communities during the spring.

Olson continues, “What we are talking about doing is not eliminating that essential tool called prescribed fire, but spreading out its application enough to where the smoke is just not so intense as it is typically for one month of the calendar year.”

The study has finished its second of four years of data collection, testing burn times on or around April 1st, when grasses are dormant, August 1st, and September 1st.

In initial results, the later time period resulted in a 75 percent reduction in the appearance of Sericea Lespedeza, and an almost-complete suppression of its seed.