Range Management in the Flint Hills
Flint Hills Map
Most of the Flint Hills is better suited to ranching than farming because of the cherty gravels in the soil(1). Since the rainfall here is high enough to grow shrubland and even forest, the Flint Hills would not be the grassland as we see today without the fires(2). A good controlled burning requires specific moisture conditions in the soil, good timing, planning, organization, safety consideration, and suitable meteorological conditions.
Fine particles in the smoke aggravate lung and heart diseases. Young children, older adults, and adults active outdoors are especially vulnerable to these fine particles. Other smoke components including organic matters and nitrogen oxides are precursors to the formation of ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone can irritate human lungs and aggravate lung disease. Young children and older adults are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of ground-level ozone.
When certain meteorological conditions prevail, smoke from the controlled burning can cause violations of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particles and ozone. Smoke plume can sometimes travel thousands of miles affecting areas far away from the fire.
In 2003, a majority of the prairie was burned during a seven-day period between the second and third weeks of April due to the severe drought conditions early this year in Kansas. On April 12, there was an inversion layer over northeast Kansas that trapped all the emissions from the fires. Monitors in Topeka reported readings that are very close to the NAAQS for fine particles and the NAAQS for ozone was violated in the Kansas City area. The smoke plume affected areas as far away as Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the NAAQS for ozone was also violated.
Another use of GIS is the GIS software. The GIS software, associated database, and the mapping and analytical capabilities provide good resources for an effective smoke management plan. Database can consist of many layers of data such as roads, pastures, vegetation, local communities, soil conditions, meteorological conditions, fire locations and sizes, and other related information. Maps can display single-layer or multi-layer data in an easy-to-understand format. GIS analytical tools can be used to facilitate development of an appropriate burning schedule that can minimize the effects of the smoke without sacrificing the benefits of controlled burning. In brief, GIS software provides a one-stop shopping opportunity for the smoke management plan.
Remote sensing is another useful tool for the management of controlled burning activities. It can be used to monitor the health of the prairie and track the invasion of woody species into the prairie. Information gathered from remote sensing is helpful in determining which pastures need to be burned in a certain year.
References1. Flint Hills from the Kansas Geological Survey.
2. ESU Biologist Reports on Recent Prairie Burning by Dr. Richard Schrock.
Emporia State University (2003).