It's kind of beautiful how in sync the folks in these Kansas prairies are with nature, right?
Some things NEED fire to live.
Pine trees, lovely flowering plants in the prairie, birds, and other prairie wildlife that also live there. For them, fire is life.
But for a good chunk of the 20th century, many folks in the U.S. were afraid of fire and tried to put a stop to them. It took until 1972 for many public parks — such as Yellowstone — or public lands to implement "controlled fires." Only then did many people start realizing that fire is part of the cycle of life.
The Native Americans knew this long ago, and they burned grasses.
Prairie Rebirth: America's last great Tallgrass Prairie has begun again the springtime ritual of fire, death, and rebirth. Lines of fire arc across the Flint Hills consuming last year's dead grasses to make way for this spring's lush growth. Ranchers here in Kansas now replicate the ecosystem's burning patterns which Native Americans used before them and which natural fires (sparked by lightning) produced before man ever came to the Great Plains. Shot on assignment for National Geographic Magazine. For the next several days I'll feature this annual spectacle on @JimRichardsonNG. #FlintHillsSaga #nature @natgeocreative #kansas
A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on
Humans have figured out how to create controlled fires.
There's always a huge risk that we might accidentally burn things we don't want to burn, so people who do burn — such as ranchers — have to know exactly what they're doing. Many guides exist to help ranchers, such as "Burn Your Prairie Safely (And Have Fun, Too!)."
In the case of Kansas's Flint Hills prairies, the fires are for the good of nature.
The method is called a "prescribed burn." Ranchers in east Kansas carry them out for several reasons:
- To get rid of invasive species. Fires maintain the species diversity of native plants.
- To get rid of weeds and plant growth that could lead to wildfires. Planned fires where you burn what you want to burn are always better than unplanned fires where things you don't want to burn end up burned to a crisp.
- To restore soil nutrients. According to the Illinois State Museum, "Nitrogen-fixing legumes have increased growth after fires, which helps restore nitrogen back into the soil. A fall burn adds vital nutrients to the soil, creating a dark exposed surface. This surface warms more quickly in the spring to help speed germination."
While there are legitimate concerns that the fires might cause carbon dioxide emissions, the prescribed fires ultimately prevent larger wildfires from occurring and allow for native plants and trees to continue growing — trees that can store the carbon.
It's kind of beautiful how in sync the folks are with nature, right?
Prairie Rebirth 6/20: Rolling hills turn black as the lines of fire billow smoke in the late afternoon. The spring burn in the Flint Hills releases carbon stored in the plants from last years growth, carbon that will be captured again as the grasses grow again throughout the summer. For the atmosphere this carbon cycle is a wash, unlike burning fossil fuels which releases stored carbon. #FlintHillsSaga #nature @natgeocreative #kansas
A photo posted by Jim Richardson (@jimrichardsonng) on