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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Effects of fire on true prairie grasslands
Year: 1972
Author(s): Smith, L. M., Owensby, C. E.
Source Title: Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference
Source Type: Journal
pages: 9-22
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: This paper is primarily a review of some of the research in Kansas on burning true prairie grasslands, beginning with H. L. Hensel in 1918 and conducted by many persons since then.Mid- and late-spring burning increased number of big bluestem plants according to most evidence. Table 2 shows what can be expected under grazing conditions. The effect of burning on the little bluestem population is not clear, likely because [of] such management factors as returning clipped forage to plots or not, date of clipping, and clipping or grazing. Little bluestem seemed to respond about as well most of the time to nonburning as to any burning treatment.Fall- and early-spring burning reduced populations of Indiangrass while late-spring burning maintained or increased it compared with nonburning. Sideoats grama remained about the same under most treatments with a tendency to increase under early spring burning. Burning significantly decreased Kentucky bluegrass.Some woody species can be prevented from increasing by annual burning provided they are not too large, adequate fuel is present, and they are in an unprotected area. Included are American elm, redcedar, bur and chinquapin oak, and rough leaf dogwood. Redcedar is especially susceptible to fire. Buckbrush can be controlled by repeated late spring burning. Smooth sumac plants are stunted by burning but they persist and may increase in number.Forage production was about the same at Manhattan, Kansas, on late spring burned and nonburned areas. Fall-, early-, and mid-spring burning reduced yields. Yields were increased by burning east and north of Kansas in some higher rainfall areas of the prairie. Yields were reduced in a lower rainfall area southwest of Kansas.Burning increased soil temperature, which encouraged early plant growth. Usually soil moisture content of burned plots was reduced least by late-spring burning. The combination of higher temperatures, exposure to evaporation and runoff, and growing plants demand for water under fall- and early-spring burning probably helped reduce soil moisture, especially during dry periods.Increased gains by steers grazing mid- and late-spring burned pastures compared with gains on early spring burned and nonburned pastures may result partially from increases in nutritive value of the plants. Forage from the mid-spring burned area was higher in protein, and both dry matter and crude fiber of mid-spring burned areas were more digestible than from the nonburned pasture