Written by Tammy Thompson
Tim Rodgers lights off part of his prairie every winter, as do many of his fellow landowners and land stewards. Tim’s prairie is “restored,” a fancy way of saying he took his land back to a natural state that existed before colonization and agriculture took over his neck of eastern Kansas.
Tim knows that his prairie will only thrive WITH fire. If he chose to avoid burning, he would, over time, no longer have prairie. Tim uses what experts call “prescribed fire” for his prairie. According to the National Park Service, a prescribed fire is a planned fire; it is also called a “controlled burn” or “prescribed burn,” used to meet the management objectives for the land. A prescription is a set of conditions that considers the safety of the public and fire workers, weather, and probability of meeting the burn objectives, like reducing invasive species and volunteer trees, improving soil health, and making way for forbs and grasses.
Wildfire and “prescribed fire” differ greatly. One destroys habitat, communities, homes, and lives, and the latter plays a critical role in improving woodlands, prairies, and habitats. Ranchers in the Flint Hills, and the Indigenous tribes before them, never stopped burning their grasslands, despite governments working to suppress the use of the practice. And anyone who has driven through the Flint Hills can see the wisdom in their choice.
Like many of us, Tim isn’t a fire science expert. “I’m just a regular person who cares about restoring my part of the world,” he says. Over the years, Tim worked to gain knowledge and resources to do his best to steward his little piece of the environment.
It may seem overwhelming to a landowner or steward to undertake a prescribed fire. Still, with careful planning, the use of available educational resources & classes, and a laser focus on the weather, it’s possible to have a safe and effective prescribed burn. Work closely with your local fire department to ensure safety for property and people, and together we can help “fire season” take on a more positive meaning.
Fire Could Help Your Land—Missouri Department of Conservation
Fire Weather Map—NOAA’s National Weather Service
Prescribed Fires—Kansas Forest Service
Kansas Prescribed Fire Contractors—Kansas Forest Service
Missouri Prescribed Fire Contractors—Missouri Department of Conservation
Missouri Prescribed Burn Course Online—Missouri residents only
Tim Rodgers musters his volunteers ahead of their prescribed burn, sharing technique, safety, and weather information.