Future of the Great Plains Without Fire
Elimination of fire from the Great Plains is obtainable through complete conversion of rangelands and forests to cropland and asphalt. However, fire suppression efforts are successful and cause major changes in Great Plains ecosystems. The future of the Great Plains with fire suppression would result in the dominance of woody plants; hardships to ranching communities and rural economies; more endangered and threatened species; and increased risk of wildfire to our homes and communities. Prescribed burn associations work to avoid the consequences of fire suppression by bringing communities together to conduct prescribed fires and address regional conservation issues.
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[00:00:03.620]The Great Plains is often considered part
[00:00:06.440]of the grassland biome, and often the argument is made
[00:00:11.020]that there are three primary reasons
[00:00:13.330]that drive grassland ecosystems.
[00:00:16.980]First of all, you have climate,
[00:00:18.420]and the climate is suitable for grasslands.
[00:00:21.400]And that's typical from all over the world.
[00:00:25.080]Second, you have fire, which limits woody plants.
[00:00:29.120]It also greatly alters the distribution
[00:00:32.240]of the third element,
[00:00:33.440]which are herbivores that may be browsers or grazers
[00:00:37.520]that can help maintain grassland dominance.
[00:00:43.320]Since European settlement,
[00:00:45.040]many areas of the Great Plans have suppressed fire
[00:00:49.270]and limited its distribution and intensity
[00:00:53.130]to a degree that we've had great changes in the landscape.
[00:00:57.630]It's difficult to imagine eliminating fire
[00:01:00.630]from the Great Plains
[00:01:01.780]because it will continue to occur as wildfires
[00:01:05.670]that are much less manageable.
[00:01:07.700]The only way I can imagine limiting fire entirely
[00:01:12.520]from the Great Plains would be either to cultivate it all
[00:01:17.330]or turn into asphalt or a parking lot.
[00:01:22.040]The system is set up to burn.
[00:01:26.960]If we could manage to suppress fires in the Great Plains,
[00:01:30.900]it's not difficult to imagine what it would look like
[00:01:34.330]because many areas have already accomplished this
[00:01:37.570]at least for the time being.
[00:01:39.670]We would mostly have an increase in woody plants.
[00:01:43.120]Once we started changing these landscapes
[00:01:45.960]from a grassland to a shrubland,
[00:01:48.030]first of all, the ranching community
[00:01:50.170]and rural economies would be greatly impacted.
[00:01:53.480]We know examples where we've had almost the elimination
[00:01:57.330]of the ability to support grazing animals
[00:02:00.380]on landscapes that have been encroached by cedar.
[00:02:03.770]We would also find that these landscapes
[00:02:06.380]that are ranches are often used
[00:02:09.010]for things like wildlife enterprises for hunting,
[00:02:12.530]and that would be greatly minimized.
[00:02:15.500]It would also greatly alter endangered species' habitat.
[00:02:19.720]There are many species
[00:02:20.930]that are highly dependent upon grasslands.
[00:02:23.300]In fact, many of the most rapidly declining species
[00:02:27.320]of the world require grasslands with very few trees.
[00:02:32.010]When we suppress fires and have an increase in woody plants,
[00:02:36.120]this increases the volatile fuel.
[00:02:38.180]So it greatly changes the type of wildfires
[00:02:42.140]that we experience in the Great Plains.
[00:02:44.440]It alters the severity,
[00:02:46.230]as well as the ability to manage those wildfires
[00:02:50.910]and protect homes and businesses.
[00:02:56.250]Prescribed burn associations are one of the best tools
[00:02:59.670]that we now have to deal with conservation
[00:03:02.390]across regional scales
[00:03:04.180]that are appropriate for managing woody plants.
[00:03:06.680]So woody plants don't invade one piece
[00:03:09.270]of property at a time.
[00:03:10.440]They basically invade across whole regions.
[00:03:13.110]And when you start a prescribed burn program,
[00:03:16.160]the benefits of each fire or to that entire region,
[00:03:20.880]often these regional scales that are impacted
[00:03:24.060]are not really associated with the scale
[00:03:27.450]at which we conduct prescribed burns.
[00:03:29.370]So prescribed burn associations allow us
[00:03:32.980]to get communities involved so that the people that benefit
[00:03:36.660]from the prescribed fire can get together
[00:03:39.450]and work as an entire community.
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