Flint Hills area of eastern Kansas and northern Oklahoma is home to the largest (12,000 square miles) remaining contiguous natural grassland prairie in the U.S. Throughout the region, land managers frequently use controlled burns to sustain the natural prairie ecosystem from the encroachment of eastern Red Cedar and other woody species, and to enhance the quantity and quality of the grasses for cattle grazing. However, smoke from widespread early spring burning has exceeded air quality limits and impacted urban areas such as Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita.
To assist rangeland managers and local and state officials in better understanding the economic, ecological and human health trade-offs of rangeland burning in Flint Hills, EPA Region 7 and EPA ORD are collaborating with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas State University (www.ksfire.org) to establish a user-friendly, multi-model framework for visualizing historical and hypothetical burning scenarios, including changes in the location, timing and frequency of rangeland burning practices. Tangible products of the research include computer-generated spatial and temporal maps of predicted changes in rangeland productivity and air quality. Stakeholders and decision makers can use these resources to identify best case scenarios for land management that strike a balance between the environmental, economic and human health objectives of rural and urban communities.
“Kansas Department of Health and Environment is excited and optimistic about the potential uses of this multi-model framework, including predicted spatial and temporal patterns of surface fuel loads, live biomass (forage), and soil moisture information that can be used to supplement our existing Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan modeling tool,” said John Mitchell, Director, Division of Environment, Kansas Department of Health and Environment.