Pre­scribed burns part of graz­ing re­search project at Old Man on His Back

The Southwest Booster - - FRONT PAGE - SUB­MIT­TED

The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada (NCC) and the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan (U of S), with sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions from Mee­wasin Val­ley Au­thor­ity, has con­ducted the first in a se­ries of pre­scribed burns for a re­search project tak­ing place at the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Area (OMB).

The pre­scribed burns are part of a five-year re­search project to bet­ter un­der­stand how to in­flu­ence where cat­tle and bi­son graze at OMB, and how fire, as a nat­u­ral dis­tur­bance, changes the plant com­mu­nity. Spring and fall burns are ten­ta­tively planned for the area over the next three years.

As part of the re­search, NCC and the U of S worked with lo­cal live­stock pro­duc­ers, us­ing GPS col­lars to track cat­tle and bi­son move­ments. Mee­wasin Val­ley Au­thor­ity, with a his­tory of us­ing pre­scribed burns for sim­i­lar con­ser­va­tion goals, pro­vided equip­ment and ex­pert per­son­nel to sup­port the project. The Fron­tier Fire Depart­ment was also on hand par­tic­i­pat­ing in the burn.

The small burn patches will help U of S re­searchers learn if the grass that grows back fol­low­ing a fire at­tracts an­i­mals to un­der-used parts of a pas­ture. Fire makes a quick re­duc­tion in the height of veg­e­ta­tion, and it changes the grow­ing con­di­tions for the plants. The regrowth of plants af­ter a fire at­tracts graz­ing an­i­mals, which ben­e­fit from the higher pro­tein con­tent of the grass.

Un­like wild­fires that gen­er­ally hap­pen when the weather is hot and dry and are made worse by wind, a pre­scribed burn is a fire set in­ten­tion­ally, un­der very strict weather and mois­ture con­di­tions, to achieve spe­cific re­sults. There are many vari­ables that in­flu­ence whether or not a pre­scribed burn can oc­cur, in­clud­ing hu­mid­ity, tem­per­a­ture and wind speed. Pre­scribed burns will only be con­ducted when ev­ery one of the very spe­cific con­di­tions are met.

These pre­scribed burns cre­ate a mix of var­ied veg­e­ta­tion heights that re­sult in a va­ri­ety of habi­tats for grass­land species while main­tain­ing for­age for graz­ing cat­tle and bi­son. Fire may also be used to re­duce some of the in­va­sive plants grow­ing at OMB. This work is all part of en­sur­ing that OMB con­tin­ues to be a healthy home for the birds and an­i­mals that live there, as well as a work­ing ranch that pro­vides qual­ity for­age for ranch­ers part­ner­ing with NCC.

“This re­search project with the U of S pro­vides an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity for NCC to work in part­ner­ship with mul­ti­ple part­ners to im­ple­ment the safe and ef­fec­tive use of pre­scribed fire in Saskatchewan. Pre­scribed fire, like graz­ing, is a tool for manag­ing the dis­tur­bance-driven ecosys­tems of Saskatchewan,” stated Matthew Braun, Man­ager of Con­ser­va­tion Science and Plan­ning, Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada, Saskatchewan Re­gion.

“This project was de­signed to en­cour­age col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween agen­cies in­ter­ested in ad­dress­ing com­plex en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. Fire sup­pres­sion across the Cana­dian prairies over the last 100 years has de­creased the va­ri­ety of habi­tats avail­able to na­tive species, which have adapted to pe­ri­odic dis­tur­bances by fire and graz­ing. I think this is a great op­por­tu­nity for non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, academia and the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try to part­ner for en­hanced stew­ard­ship of our pre­cious grasslands for pos­i­tive eco­log­i­cal and eco­nomic out­comes,” added Dale Gross, M.SC., PHD can­di­date, Univer­sity of Saskatchewan.

A num­ber of ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects have been linked to fire, in­clud­ing:

• Re­duc­ing shrub growth when com­bined with graz­ing;

• In­creas­ing na­tive species di­ver­sity; • Cre­at­ing a va­ri­ety of veg­e­ta­tion com­mu­ni­ties and habi­tat types across the land­scape;

• Re­turn­ing nu­tri­ents to the soil and stim­u­lat­ing veg­e­ta­tion growth;

• In­creas­ing food pro­duc­tion for wildlife; and

• De­creas­ing ex­otic and un­de­sir­able species.

PHOTO COUR­TESY NA­TURE CON­SER­VANCY OF CANADA

A se­ries of pre­scribed burns were re­cently con­ducted at the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Area as part of a graz­ing study.

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