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Texas fires: Burned rangeland can recover quickly, but cattle ranchers face struggles ahead to find and feed their herds

Karen Hickman, Oklahoma State University, The Conversation on

Published in Science & Technology News

Some herds will die in the fire, and some cattle will be injured. Fires like these will also burn fences and damage the windmills that power wells, and they can melt plastic water tanks. So, many producers will have to find new sources of both food and water for their animals. Towns and homes are also at risk.

The rangelands are dominated by people who are supportive of their neighbors, so typically, the surrounding counties will offer donations. There are some concerns about hay from areas farther away and the risk of invasive species. The Panhandle saw that with red imported fire ants that arrived in hay bales after fires in 2018. But the immediate concern for ranchers is to provide food and water for their livestock.

The grasses will be able to sprout back and recover fairly quickly. Over winter, they are alive below ground. Only the dead part of the plants above ground burned.

In those systems with perennial plants, once it rains and temperatures rise, the grasses and forbs will sprout back within a few weeks. The plants will recover nicely as long as we’re not in a long-term drought.

The grassland may even see a benefit if the fire removes invasive species like eastern red cedar in Oklahoma. In some areas, people have been hesitant to conduct prescribed fires, and that has led to an overgrowth of woody plants, such as sumac and sand plum. If the fire clears out some of that overgrowth and the eastern red cedar, the prairie grass and forb species will regenerate in those areas, restoring wildlife habitat.

Where the vegetation burns away, the black surface will increase the soil temperature, activating perennial grasses and promoting resprouting. This speeds up their growth.

 

These are really resilient ecosystems. But the immediate concern in the coming weeks is for cattle producers to find ways to feed and water their livestock while the rangeland’s native plants regrow.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and trustworthy analysis to help you make sense of our complex world. It was written by: Karen Hickman, Oklahoma State University

Read more:
Diagnosing ‘warming winter syndrome’ as summerlike heat sweeps into central and eastern US

Living with wildfire: How to protect more homes as fire risk rises in a warming climate

The West’s iconic forests are increasingly struggling to recover from wildfires – altering how fires burn could boost their chances

Karen Hickman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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