Using Prescribed Fire in Oklahoma
In pre-European settlement times, early explorers such as Washington Irving and Thomas Nuttall found Native Americans using fire in the area now known as Oklahoma. Native Americans used fire to manage wildlife, a primary food source, and to maintain prairie openings in forested regions. Early settlers followed this example for a while, but gradually stopped burning. As land use changed, particularly to farming annual crops, the land was broken up into small ownerships thus eliminating most fires. In the mid-1900s, media attention focused on wildfires and Smokey the Bear. This information included misleading information about fire and its benefits to humans and the environment. Fire is an ecosystem driver that facilitates ecosystem processes such as nutrient and water cycling. However, fire seldom affects ecosystems alone instead it works in concert with herbivory and climate, thus constituting an integral part of ecosystem restoration. Fire is mandatory for the health of prairies, shrublands, and forests throughout Oklahoma and most of the world. Fire is a necessary tool for managing wildlife, livestock, and timber; research has shown that although there are many land management tools, there is no substitute for fire. It has taken almost 100 years for our contemporary culture to learn what Native American’s have known about fire for thousands of years.