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Long after the flames are extinguished, reminders of the devastation of wildfires lingers. Although landowners who rely on grasslands, shrublands and forests as an enterprise face a difficult challenge to recover their vegetation and habitat, there are positive aspects to consider.

 

“Many people don’t understand the role of fire in the ecosystem,” said John Weir, Oklahoma State University Extension associate specialist with the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. “Fire has been, and still is, an essential part of maintaining healthy native grassland, shrubland and forest ecosystems and has positive impacts.”

 

The proper use of prescribed burning will lessen negative impacts of wildfire, but some management guidelines should be followed.

 

“Following a wildfire, management practices need to be applied that encourage desired plant growth,” said Weir. “The desired plants will depend on the objectives of the landowner.”

 

If grazing is planned on burned areas, proper grazing management practices need to be applied that promote the growth and vigor of the desired plant community. The impacts of a wildfire on forage production are similar to those following an application of prescribed fire. For example, producers can expect a 10% to 15% increase in stocker cattle gain or about one body condition score increase for cows on burned areas. Brush control is an added benefit.

 

Several management considerations following a wildfire should be taken to ensure the desired outcomes. Be aware some areas may need to be deferred until plant growth is adequate to support grazing, which is highly dependent on precipitation. Proper stocking rates should always be used; with adequate precipitation, areas can be grazed with intensive early stocking, as long as producers make sure to remove cattle by July 1 and not graze the area again until after frost.

 

“The impacts of wildfire to the land are beneficial and landowners should take advantage of it. Some of the wildfires that removed large eastern redcedar could be worth as much as $200 per acre in cost savings of cedar removal,” Weir said. “The key is to not overreact. All of Oklahoma’s ecosystems are fire dependent and therefore adapted to fire.”

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