Will protect use of prescribed fire to preserve tallgrass prairie
May 16 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), recently introduced legislation, S. 989, the Flint Hills Preservation Act, to protect the ability of landowners in the Flint Hills to use prescribed fire as a tool to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
“Rather than have to worry about a schedule dictated by the EPA, this legislation will allow landowners to manage prescribed burning around the forces of weather and other factors impacting safe conditions, while at the same time preserve a unique ecosystem,” Sen. Moran said.
“I am pleased to work with Senator Moran on this commonsense legislation that preserves the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in Oklahoma and Kansas and helps our agricultural communities manage their pastures,” said Sen. Inhofe, Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The EPA’s proposed action to limit burns fails to take into account the fact that they play a key role in the preservation of our tallgrass prairie ecosystem. EPA is pitting two separate and unrelated environmental issues against one another, putting our ecosystem at risk. This bill will provide a simple solution that balances our states’ environmental and economic needs.”
“We applaud Senator Moran’s initiative to correct a flaw in the Clean Air Act with this legislation,” said President Ken Grecian of the Kansas Livestock Association. “Prescribed burning in the Flint Hills is a proven, economical tool that protects and enhances the tallgrass prairie. Smoke that results from this practice should not cause regulatory compliance problems for our urban neighbors.”
The Flint Hills region of Kansas and Oklahoma contains the world’s largest share of remaining tallgrass prairie, and is the only place where that habitat exists in landscape proportions. Only 4 percent of North America’s pre-settlement tallgrass prairie survives to this day, and 80 percent is located in Kansas.
Each year, ranchers, landowners and conservation groups use prescribed fires to mimic the seasonal fires that have shaped the tallgrass prairie for thousands of years. Prescribed burning is an essential management practice for protecting the ecosystem, enhancing grazing land and reducing the chances of destructive wildfires, which occurred this year across the High Plains. Prescribed burning is also an important component in ranchland management. It helps ranchers keep pastures free from invasive species, like eastern red cedars, and leads to higher quality grass that increases weight gain in their cattle.
In recent years, a condensed timeframe for grassland burning has caused heightened air quality readings in Kansas City and Wichita. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking to regulate how and when landowners can burn in the Flint Hills region by asking the state of Kansas to develop a smoke management plan.
S. 989 recognizes that prescribed fires are necessary and a natural occurrence. It exempts landowners and local governments from liability under certain Clean Air Act standards if the EPA’s enforcement action is attributed to smoke from prescribed fires in the Flint Hills region.
Sen. Moran is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.