A condensed window for pasture burning last year caused air quality violations in Kansas City and Wichita that led to the possibility of mandatory regulation. Leadership by the Kansas Legislature, with guidance from the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA), has resulted in the passage of a state resolution urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exclude emissions generated by the ecologically proven practice of burning the tallgrass prairie when compiling air monitoring data for cities.
“Protecting the ability of ranchers to burn in the Flint Hills is imperative to preserving the last and largest remaining expanse of tallgrass prairie in the world,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick, who chairs the Kansas Senate Natural Resources Committee in which the resolution originated.
The state Legislature began discussions on the issue after EPA recommended Kansas create a smoke management plan to deal with the situation. Legislators held hearings to collect input from all perspectives. KLA Vice President and General Counsel Allie Devine told McGinn and her fellow committee members prescribed burning is an essential management practice for protecting the ecosystem, enhancing grazing land and reducing the chances of destructive wildfires like those experienced in California and other states.
Kansas State University presented extensive research to the committee showing the need for yearly planned burning in the Flint Hills. Range Management Specialist Clenton Owensby testified about the value of burning to preserve the tallgrass ecosystem. Without this management tool, he said undesirable plants, including the Red Cedar, squeeze out native grasses and threaten the existence of birds and other species dependent upon the tallgrass prairie for habitat. Owensby told state legislators K-State research shows the best management for maintaining the ecological system involves a combination of prescribed burning and livestock grazing.
After extensive testimony and consideration of the issues involved, legislators drafted Senate Concurrent Resolution 1623. The resolution ultimately was approved by large margins in both the Kansas House and Senate. It calls on Congress to require EPA to exclude air monitoring data from prairie burning in the Flint Hills when determining exceedances of National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
“By working together, we can make greater advances that will serve the citizens of this great state and preserve some of our most precious natural resources,” said McGinn.
The state senator commended KLA for its work on this very important issue. While the concurrent resolution does not change the federal law, it is serving as a springboard for action. KLA used it as the basis for a request of the Kansas congressional delegation to draft legislation carving out the exemption in the Clean Air Act.
“KLA appreciates the Kansas Legislature boldly stepping forward on behalf of ranchers and landowners through this resolution,” said KLA President Mark Smith, a cattleman from Sharon Springs.
KLA is a trade organization representing the state’s livestock business on legislative, regulatory and industry issues at both the state and federal levels. The association’s work is funded through voluntary dues dollars paid by its members.