Prescribed Fires Promote Long-term Preservation of Texas Grasslands

The effects of burning on rangelands have long been debated. Although it is desirable to remove woody plants and invasive species, fire may also eliminate the native grasses that are important for raising cattle. Studying the effects of burning over a span of years can inform land managers how rangelands will respond to this type of management.

The current issue of the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management describes a 12-year study of a semiarid live oak savanna in Texas. Savannas such as these are transitioning from landscapes dominated by grass and trees into shrub-dominated woodlands. This new face of rangeland ecosystems is neither aesthetically nor economically desirable given the rate and extent of its occurrence.

Human actions have brought about many alterations in rangelands. Global expansion of the cattle industry has caused displacement of native grazers and has contributed to overgrazing. These activities reduce the growth of herbaceous plants that provide fuel , which reduces fire intensity and limits fire effectiveness in eliminating woody plants.

Historically, fires swept the savanna of the Edwards Plateau region of Texas about every six years. This long-term fire study mimicked the historical cycle. Between 1994 and 2006, summer and winter burns were conducted every six years. The results of these burns and a controlled unburned area were compared and contrasted.

Repeated high-intensity summer burnings reduced or eliminated encroaching woody plants such as prickly pear cactus, juniper, and mesquite. With less intense winter burnings, undesirable woody plants tended to maintain their presence on the savanna, but their spread was restricted. Among herbaceous grass species, little bluestem increased following winter burns and remained constant after summer burns. Weather and other variables had greater effect on other grasses than did burning treatments.

The study found that fire can reduce woody plant species without having a long-term, negative effect on desired grasses. While the burned areas showed positive results in their regrowth, the unburned control area of land rapidly transitioned from a grass-and-tree savanna into woody domination.

Download Center

  • Waste Management in 2021: Accelerate Your Success with Technology

    Join waste management experts on February 23rd for a live best practice session webinar. You’ll learn how to take your waste program to the next level with visual location, barcoding, and mobility. Register now.

  • Green Quadrant EHS Software 2021

    Reserve your copy of the new report by independent analyst firm, Verdantix, to get a detailed, fact-based comparison of the 22 most prominent EHS software vendors in the industry.

  • Your Guide to Environmental Metrics that Drive Performance

    Translating sustainability into action starts with implementing the right metrics to assess your environmental risk and performance. Learn how to design metrics that improve your decision-making process and drive enterprise performance.

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

  • Unpacking ESG: 6 Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask

    Environmental and Sustainability experts from Arcadis and Cority answer 6 of the most pressing questions EHS professionals have about getting started with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting.

  • Industry Safe