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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

March 7, 2023

Flint Hills Prescribed Burning and Smoke Management

Submitted by Carol Baldwin

With the end of winter, widespread prescribed burning will soon begin the renovation and rejuvenation of native rangelands and CRP plantings. Prescribed burning provides a host of benefits for rangelands, including controlling woody plant invasions, improving grassland wildlife habitat, and improving livestock grazing. For more, the publication, Benefits of Rangeland Burning, provides additional information on these and other benefits. 

Smoke contributions from concentrated prescribed burning can lead to poor air quality. Flint Hills ranchers can use the smoke forecast and modeling tool to estimate the smoke impact of their prescribed burn on a given day. Choosing to burn on a day when smoke is less likely to cause an air quality problem eases relationships with downwind populations.

Last year (2022) there were four exceedances of the air quality standards in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas related to smoke. Air quality was impacted by the smoke from numerous wildfires, but some of the impact came from prescribed burning.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has issued a health advisory alert for the spring burn season for those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to smoke.

Current air quality conditions at monitor sites can be found on the Fire and Smoke Map.

Overall, fuel loads in the Flint Hills region are average to above average due to early summer growth last year. Drought conditions increase the chance of escapes. Dry soils make prescribed burns more difficult to control. Current widespread drought conditions in much of Kansas may result in above normal wildfire activity, placing an additional burden on rural fire departments. Blowing dust from drought-parched fields can mix with smoke and make firefighting extremely difficult and dangerous.

Note: The EPA standard for PM2.5 is under review. You may submit a response to the proposed lowering of the standard.