If one looks only to the Flint Hills of Kansas, a need to promote and encourage the safe and effective use of prescribed fire seems to not be needed. True enough that a long standing and deep rooted tradition of fire as a land management tool is very strong in the Eastern 1/3rd of the state, such is not true statewide. The Kansas Prescribed Fire Council is working with a wide variety of partners to lend support to not only continue the existing good work of the eastern Kansas fire culture, but to foster a prescribed fire culture in the western portion of the state.
In fact many groups have seen a need for increased assistance to help the landowners and land managers of western Kansas with the training, tools, organization, and advocacy needed to help prescribed fire become a vital part of western Kansas land management. One of the first needs identified was a need for further training, not just on the how-to of prescribed fire but also the history, objectives, or the why of prescribed fire. Kansas State University Agronomy Extension took the lead in this effort and since the fall of 2008 this twice a year series of local Prescribed Fire Workshops has reached prescribed fire practitioners in 66 of 105 Kansas Counties.
On the ground technical assistance support has been limited only by budgets and distance, but most certainly not by a strong desire to provide support. Existing staff in the Kansas NRCS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Kansas Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, Pheasants/Quail Forever, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, KSU Extension, Kansas Farm Bureau, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism have put in a wealth of hours to provide guidance, advice and assistance to those wishing to learn more about and/or do more with prescribed fire. The need for an increase in this type of assistance is apparent to all partners involved in using fire in Kansas.
To help meet that need, a few positions have been added in western Kansas and more are planned. The Nature Conservancy has a new staff member located in Kiowa County who works to assist prescribed fire activities among other objectives in the Red Hills area of Kansas. The USFWS Partners program relocated a position to the SW portion of Kansas, with the need for more prescribed fire to better meet the habitat needs of the area being part of the reason to move that position. Several Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists are working to support wildlife habitat work, to include the use of prescribed fire, in western Kansas. The Kansas Forest Service added a Rangeland Fire and Wildlife Ecologist to further promote the habitat benefits of prescribed fire and provide planning assistance to landowners interested in starting prescribed fire management. The Kansas Forest Service, Kansas NRCS, and the Kansas Prescribed Fire Council are partnering to combine grant and agency resources to provide dedicated staff time to coordinate prescribed fire activities on private lands in Kansas. This Kansas Prescribed Fire Council Coordinator will work primarily with existing Prescribed Burning Associations (PBAs) and encourage new PBA’s in targeted regions.
Current plans are to add two contract Regional Fire Coordinators to work in specific, targeted areas of greatest need. Even with this long list of groups working to increase the use of fire in Western Kansas the largest set of results will come from the private landowners. Several prescribed fire associations have become established in Western Kansas and there are more on the way. Ultimately, the ability of all the above mentioned groups to help these and future PBAs will form the future of prescribed fire use in Western Kansas.