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Questions and Answers: Flint Hills Prescribed Burning Season

March 2014

Contact for EPA Region 7: Gina Grier, Life Scientist, at 913-551-7078 or grier.gina@epa.gov.

How many acres of rangeland were burned during the 2013 spring burn season?

An estimated 217,400 acres of rangeland burned in the Kansas Flint Hills and Oklahoma's Osage Hills Region, which is roughly 8 percent of a normal burn season. This was primarily due to the previous year's severe drought conditions, stress on native grasses, and uncertainty of future spring and summer rainfall. The 10-year average of acres burned in Kansas is approximately 2.5 million.

Is spring 2014 expected to be a more typical burn year?

Improving climate conditions are setting the stage for a more typical burn scenario in 2014 with the potential for high smoke emissions. This spring, it will be important for the Kansas Flint Hills stakeholders to take advantage of the modeling tools on the Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management website Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer (ksfire.org) to determine when weather conditions are best for burning in relation to air quality impacts. A mobile device version of the modeling tool website is also available to provide more accessibility to the information when stakeholders are in the field.

EPA appreciates the stakeholders' efforts in forming partnerships, implementing the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan (SMP), and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's (KDHE) support of the ksfire.org website. For the past three years, the SMP has demonstrated that prescribed burning can be managed that reduces air quality impacts in order to avoid potential regulatory options in the future. However, an SMP does not guarantee that data will be excluded from regulatory action.

What activities have taken place to prepare for the 2014 burn season?

These are only a few of the activities. EPA Region 7 is certain that many stakeholders groups and individuals are promoting good collaboration in preparation for the 2014 season.

What does the future hold for air quality in the Flint Hills?

When large amounts of acreage are burned in a condensed period of time, unhealthy levels of particulate matter (PM) and substances that can form ozone are released into the air. These pollutants can impact the respiratory systems of all who breathe in the smoke, especially children, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing heart or lung diseases. The goal of the SMP is to balance public health impacts with the ecological and economical need for prescribed burning.

Clean air is one of our most precious resources. Through continued research and support of technology, we hope to reduce and/or eliminate future exceedances of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

The 2014 burn season looks to be a challenging year. For burns to be conducted safely and effectively, weather and rangeland conditions must be right. We are relying on individuals involved in burning to make informed decisions of when they should burn. Fortunately, we have the support of a wide range of stakeholders throughout the Flint Hills who have shown very good stewardship in implementing practices that reduce the impacts of smoke on downwind communities.

Would you share the value of the SMP?

It is designed to support public health, ecosystems, and the important Kansas agricultural communities. Kansans devised a reasonable, home-grown science-based policy that acknowledges the important role of agricultural burning. Best burn practices can help reduce impacts on air quality.

Partners who helped devise the SMP include Kansas legislators, ranchers, stock raisers, KDHE, Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Tallgrass Legacy Alliance, Kansas State University, NRCS, Kansas Emergency Managers Association, and numerous others.

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