The parched Oklahoma landscape erupted in a number of recent wildfires that have been devastating to many people’s lives and property. Since this is a nature blog I’m going to focus on the natural aspect
of fires other than to point out that many people lost homes, barns and equipment because they allowed eastern redcedar to infest their property. These cedars burn so hot it’s almost a crime in my mind for people who have allowed them to grow to expect firefighters to subject themselves to the danger of such hot fires.
If landowners did a better job of controlling cedars, wildfires would be smaller and less costly to fight and result in fewer structures being lost. These recent fires represent just a small amount of the countryside that is a fire hazard because of heavy cedar fuel loads and there is still time for many folks to reduce the danger of wildfires to their properties by eradicating eastern redcedar.
No question a lot of wildlife is killed by wildfires, but a surprising number survive. Some are fleet enough to flee or seek the safety of water, adult birds fly away and many small mammals and reptiles survive by hiding in burrows and holes. The burned lands may resemble a moonscape after a fire, but most plant communities will recover. A lot of folks don’t understand the role of fire in the prairie ecosystem. Fire has been, and still is, an integral part of maintaining healthy native rangeland and forest ecosystems and has positive benefits. Prescribed burns are a valuable management tool used by many landowners to restore and maintain healthy plant communities. Oklahoma’s native ecosystems are fire dependent, and without fire these plant communities often become dysfunctional and unproductive. In fact, the removal of fire is what has allowed so many cedars to infest our landscape.
Because our native plants evolved in a fire-driven ecology they are equipped to survive. Some simply grow new leaves, many sprout up from the unburned roots and others sprout from fire-resistant seeds.
But if we don’t get rain, plants aren’t going to grow in unburned or burned areas. Landowners who want to seek advise regarding their burned property can contact their local local NRCS or Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Office and get site specific recommendations. Offices are located in every county in the state and are listed in phone books under ‘federal and state government’.