According to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Kansans spent 2011 breathing much more smoke than most of the nation.

According to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Kansans spent 2011 breathing much more smoke than most of the nation.
The report states, for the year 2011, Kansas ranked sixth out of 18 states for residents exposed to 12 to 47 days of smoky conditions, with 2.8 million people affected.
The report, which is largely concerned with wildfire smoke, was intended to show the effects 2011 wildfires had on the United States. Wildfires in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma affected the state’s results, but, with no wildfires, Kansas has faced smoke issues of its own.
As recently as July 13 Wichita was placed under an Ozone Air Quality Alert warning due to high levels of smog. Cities with ozone levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits face federal regulations, and if the issue is persistent it can cause respiratory health issues in residents.
As an agriculture-heavy state with a large number of farms, control burns are a frequent sight on the Kansas plains as farmers burn off field stubble and pasture land.
While burning may happen here, though, it isn’t done without careful environmental consideration, said Kansas Livestock Association Senior Vice President Mike Beam.
“Burning in Kansas became a concern to the Environmental Protection Agency,” Beam said, “because of the impact of large amounts of acreage burned in the Flint Hills in a short period of time. It caused ozone spikes in Kansas City and Wichita, and the EPA has air quality thresholds for cities to meet. If they don’t, they have to enact local legislation to address the problem.”
In 2011 a number of organizations including the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas State University, the Natural Resources Conservation Services, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and others started the Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan in order to allow landowners to find a balance between the region’s need for controlled fires and cleaner, less smoke-polluted air.
Through the website landowners can access a smoke model webpage from mid-March through May. This page allows them to enter their county, the size of the fire they’re planning, and the date on which they plan to burn. Then the landowner can see a simulation based on weather patterns of how their burn will effect the surrounding environment over a 48 hour period.
“Controlled burning is necessary economically and ecologically,” Beam said, “so landowners can assess before a burn where the smoke will go.”
For farmers and ranchers, controlled burns are often an economic necessity, said Jeff Smith, owner and operator of S&S Farms in McPherson County.
“Some years we burn, some years we don’t, but we would not want to lose the right to burn,” Smith said. “It’s a cheap, economic way to remove trees and shrubs without mechanization, and it lets us clear fields of crop stubble to make way for the next crop. If we weren’t able to burn, it’d definitely affect our budget.”
Fred Neufeld, who lives just west of Inman and is owner and operator of Neufeld River Farm, said that controlled burns were important to keep problematic invasive plants under control.
“With these invasive species like eastern red cedar trees, blackberries and sandhill plums,” Neufeld said, “taking care of these trees and plants would be financially prohibitive if you did not burn. If you’re able to burn while they’re still small, you can stay ahead.”
Neufeld said that controlled burns didn’t just keep problematic plants under control but also helped both wildlife and cattle.
“It improves the health of the grass,” Neufeld said, “and the result is better cattle.”