Straight talk about range fire
Have you ever been in a traumatic, violent car accident? If so, you know the worst part isn’t the chaos of panicked surgeries in the ER, but the years of restorative surgery and physical therapy to regain full function.
Now, have you ever had a planned, minor surgery? You know, a tooth pulled, appendectomy, a mole removed. How does that experience compare with the traumatic injury above? It was probably much more managed, smooth, and ultimately less painful.
So, now let’s take a step back. Do you think surgery is a bad thing? When you are sick, does it make sense to blame surgery itself? Those questions seem silly in this context. However, this analogy is exactly the way we should be thinking about rangeland fire.
The 30,000 acre recent fire in Logan/Phillips counties is comparable to the car accident referenced above. It was an accidental tragedy, resulted in significant loss, and will have long-term ramifications on the landscapes and family affected. But with sound, guided range management (“physical therapy” for the land), these lands will come back stronger than before.
Meanwhile, prescribed fire is more like getting that rotten, dead tooth pulled. While it may hurt when they yank it, the after-effects are more minor because it is a small, controlled injury. Say you owned a pasture that has been taken over by shrubs, just like the 785 acres recently burned by the Forest Service on the Pawnee National Grassland. Is it more cost-effective for the federal government to use fuel-oil based herbicide at $20 per acre, or deploy a prescribed fire at $2 per acre? Ask yourself… it is your land.
It is inappropriate to compare apples and oranges, in this case a 30,000 acre ecological disaster with an 800 acre brush treatment. Scientific evidence roundly supports the value of prescribed fire on shortgrass prairie rangelands. Long-term, this treatment can also turn a profit, by improving future livestock gains, growing grazing capacity, and increasing soil fertility. We should also not conflate the tragic losses suffered by the families affected with the actions of our government on a few pastures of our public lands. Remember, prescribed fire on rangelands is a surgical scalpel, and just like any tool, it’s only as good as the person using it.
Don Schoderbek is a Regional Specialist (Range Management) for CSU Extension, serving 31 counties across eastern and southern Colorado. His office is located in downtown Sterling. His phone number is (970) 522 7207, and his email is email@example.com