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Fire as a tool


From the charred earth has come new life in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Soils rejuvenated by controlled springtime burns have combined with May rainfall to turn fields around eastern Kansas vibrant green. According to the National Weather Service, Manhattan measured 5.8 inches of rain in May of 2021, 1.15 inches more than normal.

Prescribed fires help to release nutrients back into the soil, encourage heat-activated plant species to open their shells, and keep invasive species at bay. Some of these photos were taken in the same east Manhattan field almost exactly two months apart, along with photos from other locations in the springs of 2021 and 2022. A total contrast emerged from the jet-black hills as green quickly began to repaint the landscape.

At the Konza Prairie Biological Research Station, researchers have been experimenting with land management practices at The Nature Conservancy-owned former-ranch operated by Kansas State for about 40 years. The 3,487-hectare area of native tallgrass prairie is split into smaller sections, each one with a plan to test variables and their effect on the health of native tallgrass, namely the period between controlled burns and amount of grazing from cattle and bison. Research has clearly shown burns to be beneficial to the prairie and the animals that graze it. Prescribed fire is commonly employed by private landowners who use their fields for agriculture and ranching.

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