GPE: Since the beginning of your career, what is the most exciting development in fire ecology that you have observed? (Robin Verble’s question to Butch.)
Butch: One big challenge, in getting more fire on the landscape, has been “how to change the paradigm for transferring ‘management’ technology”, and “how to equip and empower landowners”. The establishment of prescribed burn associations throughout the Great Plains states is meeting this challenge and also creating a fire-culture that will carry on into the future.
GPE: What fire topics related to grasslands get you most excited as a researcher, and why?
Butch: Fire grazing/browsing interaction or also referred to as patch-burning or pyric-herbivory. This concept, developed and researched by Sam Fuhlendorf and others at Oklahoma State University, is changing how we implement prescribed burning.
Another topic is the use of fire during the growing season under extreme dry conditions. Many landowners in my region cannot meet their goals and objectives with burning unless they burn under these extreme conditions.
GPE: What are the most important fire-related questions we need to answer for grasslands today?
Butch: Fire suppression and continuous heavy stocking are primary disturbances that contributed to the conversion of rangelands from grasslands to woodlands. Chemical and mechanical brush management practices replaced the historic role of fire in rangeland ecosystems. However, the ecological and economic impacts of these practices are not the same as fire. Reintroduction of fire as prescribed burning requires proper grazing management that will accumulate effective fuel loads and enhance plant succession. The integration of prescribed fire and grazing management is essential for effective ecosystem management. This will require the development of technology in the form of decision-aids which are needed to guide managers in the process of collecting information, monitoring the resource, and applying information for management decisions.
GPE: Can you describe one or two findings/accomplishments that you are proud of from your career related to grasslands and fire?
- Development and implementation of the concept of prescribed burn associations.
- Research of prescribed burning during the growing season under extreme dry conditions and implementing its use in the Edwards Plateau region of Texas.
GPE: Looking back over your career, can you offer some professional wisdom to those who are now getting their feet wet?
Butch: Have an attitude of never being satisfied with your current knowledge of fire or anything else for that matter. Never turn down an opportunity to participate on a prescribed burn (more experience is better, even for an expert). Be adaptive and think outside the box but don’t practice outside the box unless conducting research.
Learn more about Butch by watching our Masters of Fire series interview.