Depending on where you are in the United States, you might have noticed the warmer temperatures this year. The first day of Spring was March 20, 2023. But, according to Harry Stevens from The Washington Post, nature does not know what month of the calendar we are in but instead responds to the gradual accumulation of heat at the beginning of each year. When the daily average temperatures rise above freezing, this sends a signal to the plants and animals that life is again preparing to grow. On average this year, phenology stages of bud break were the earliest it has been in 40 years!
Happy New Year from the Prairie Project! The Prairie Project has released their Winter 2023 newsletter. Inside includes research highlights and excerpts, upcoming awards, and important dates to mark on your schedule. Keep up to date by downloading the newsletter in PDF format: Winter 2023 Prairie Project Newsletter
For more information on the Prairie Project, visit https://www.theprairieproject.org/
Join us at DeLeon City Auditorium in DeLeon, Texas on February 24th, 2023 for a day of Texas Department of Agriculture CEUs! Click here for the tentative agenda in PDF format.
Coming up April 13-14, 2023 is the 7th Hill Country Land Stewardship Conference! This year’s conference will be held at the YO Ranch Hotel and Conference Center in Kerrville, Texas. The event will include talks on economics, law, wildlife management, and changes in perspective on ranching. Day two will feature tours of the Hillingdon Ranch and Flagler Ranch.
AgriLife Extension and Bennett Trust hope to see you there!
Check out our new YouTube Channel featuring videos and handouts dedicated to increasing County Extension Agent knowledge and enhancing landowner’s understanding of tools, resources, techniques, and strategies on rangelands!
Our latest post features application and utility of Web Soil Survey, an online free resource for understanding soil mapping and tools. Nearly all farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners across the country rely on one common resource for production: their soil. If you’re interested in learning more about this medium that grows our nation’s food, fuel, and fiber, here is a advantageous tool to help! Get the Web Soil Survey Handout here and watch the YouTube video here!
Ok, get excited because I have some news to share with you! For the past year, I have been putting together an improved burn school experience in the form of an online course. This course packs all of the prescribed burn education I go through in the first two days of a burn school and lets you go through the content at your own pace.
This course is perfect for you if…
• You are ready to see an improvement in your rangeland and ecosystem
• You are limited on time and want to learn how best to bring life back to your land
• You are interested in learning more about prescribed burning and the benefits of burns
• You currently are or are interested in becoming a Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager (CIPBM)
• You want to be eligible for future certification from the Texas Department of Agriculture
Prescribed Burning Benefits
Prescribed burning, also known as controlled burning, is a technique used by certified fire experts to manage rangeland productivity and restore health to ecosystems.
Fire has played a significant but complicated historical role. Land managers have tried for decades to remove fire from fire-dominant ecosystems, which has affected future generations of land managers. It is important for us to be informed about the role that fire plays in our ecosystem in order to maintain rangeland productivity, especially systems challenged by brush encroachment.
Prescribed burning can be defined as hazard-reducing burning of a wildfire, set intentionally for purposes of forest management, farming, and prairie restoration. Prescribed fires are intentionally ignited in order to achieve specific land management objectives, such as restore ecosystem health and recycle nutrients.
Many species depend on fire to maintain their habitat. Fire is one of the best management tools for invasive plant control and prescribed burning can prepare the land for new trees and vegetation.
Prescribed burns help manage weeds and lower the risk of wildfires by reducing the amount of flammable fuel in the area. Additionally, they can restore nutrients to the soil and encourage healthy plant growth.
Ready to take the next step in restoring your land through prescribed burns?
Prescribed Burn School Details
Time: 24 hours
Launch Date: February 10, 2020
Self-paced, available year-round
Once the course is launched, you can enroll at any time and set your own pace for learning. The course allows for flexible study time to go through the materials whenever you want.
Prescribed burning requires extensive planning, training, personnel, and equipment. There are important steps that have to be taken prior to the day of the burn in order to conduct a prescribed burn safely and correctly.
This course walks you through all of the steps of a prescribed burn and gets you ready to participate in a burn field day.
Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:
• Explain the history of fire as an ecological tool
• Evaluate fuels present across many environments according to their defining characteristics
• Describe fire behavior according to physical and chemical principles
• Prepare for weather conditions as they relate to burning
• Discuss the impact topographic influences have on fire behavior
• Analyze the effect that fire has on plant communities and wildlife habitat
• Plan a prescribed burn
• Identify proper burning equipment and safety techniques
• Employ proper firing technique according to the prescribed burn goals and objectives
• Mitigate smoke impacts
• Understand laws and regulations regarding prescribed burning
• Evaluate potential burn sites
After you successfully complete the course and earn your certificate, you will have 1 year from the date of completion to sign up and participate in a field day to become eligible for certification through the TDA. Available field dates will be listed at the end of the course.
The Prescribed Burn School course goes live on February 10, 2020. Find it on AgriLife Learn, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s new online learning platform.
Want us to send you a reminder when the course launches? Sign up today and we will notify you as soon as the course is open for registration.
Click here for more info on this course!
Do you have any idea how blessed we are to have such incredible mentors of prescribed burning? I believe what makes a good burner is one that never stops learning and always learns from every fire, every experience, every time. I decided to showcase prescribed burn practitioners who are just AWESOME at what they do. I have found that the best guys to burn with are the ones who do not care about the glory or the attention. “Why I Burn” will showcase a prescribed burn practitioner who gets the job, doesn’t care about the credit, and has a true love and passion for prescribed burning. These are their stories of fire.
Hello Chuck Stanley. A friend. A colleague. And a guy that has a wealth of knowledge underneath a dang good looking hat. I first met Chuck through my dad. Chuck and my dad were at a Society for Range Management meeting in Albuquerque and they were the only two men in the Advisory Council meeting that were #1) wearing black Stetsons and #2) talking common sense. They would later bond over fire stories. Fast-forward 8 years later and I am still hitting Chuck up for that common sense, boots-on-the-ground, hard-working, well-deserved, sweat-equity common sense.
Chuck has been putting fire on the landscape for 30 years, since his beginning range days at Texas Tech. Chuck is a Range Management Specialist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Fort Worth. He is, basically, the go-to-guy for all things RX Fire in Texas and, especially, with the NRCS. In other words, he knows his stuff. This is Chuck’s story of fire.
How did you get introduced to fire? Well that is interesting, To me anyway. When I first started Texas Tech, like many other freshmen, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I bounced from major to major and not really finding my niche. I believe at the time I was taking engineering classes and took an introductory course into range and wildlife habitat. That was when I decided to change majors once again and moved over to the Range and Wildlife department at TTU, thinking what a fortunate decision this would be as I could hunt and fish and get paid for it. So I had to go and visit with my new advisor to get my classes set up and little did I know I was sitting in front of the man who wrote the book on prescribed fire, Dr. Henry Wright. During my “interview” on classwork, Dr. Wright asked me if I had ever burned any rangeland. I thought it might be a trick question to see if I was or had been convicted of arson at some point. I have not been but I have “accidentally” burned a few acres in my younger days. Dr. Wright smiled and said “ well tomorrow we are going to go burn 5000 acres”, I said “on purpose?” From that point on, I was hooked and have been involved with prescribed fire for 30 years. Funny thing, I am getting paid for it.
Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? It all depends on what type of burn we are needing to meet objectives, and where the burn is to take place (smoke management issues etc.) However, there are times that I have known a place that needed burning, and when a perfect day comes along, we get it done.
What’s the hook for you on fire? I would say the main hook for me is the rejuvenation of the vegetation following the burn. And the landowners satisfaction of the results. I really like to teach the art of prescribed fire and try to get others interested.
In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Generally speaking, I would say one that stays within the perimeter of the burn site, and all personnel are safe. Beyond that, one where the objectives were met.
Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without? My matches and driptorch…. Over the years there have been a bunch of folks that I truly have absolute trust in while burning. Generally they have been doing this a good while, and know what to look for, and understand fire behavior very well. I would not hesitate calling anyone of them if they were in the vicinity. Because of my position now, I just don’t get to go and burn like I used to.
This November we are featuring Wesley Evans, Regional Fire Coordinator for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Wesley is based out of Mason, Texas and I have never met a more dedicated and caring individual for the stewardship of prescribed fire. Wesley is super cool and he has my #1 favorite quality in prescribed burning practitioner – HE GET’S IT! Meet one of my favorite TPW people, Wesley Evans…
How did you get introduced to fire? I more or less lucked into fire. After graduating college, I didn’t have much direction or job prospects – I was literally sleeping on my buddy’s couch. One of my friend’s cousins was a District Fire Management Officer for the US Forest Service and she called me letting me know that they were going to have some firefighter jobs opening up soon and that I should apply. I applied and was hired on the Rolla Ranger District of the Mark Twain NF. The job was only a six month position, but only after a few weeks of prescribed burning and fighting wildfires I was hooked. As that job was starting to wind down, I began applying for fire positions all over the country. I was offered a position with the US Fish & Wildlife Service at Balcones Canyonlands NWR in the summer of 1999. I took the position, which turned out to be for a crewmember on a Prescribed Fire Module that would travel all over Texas (and the rest of the US) burning. The rest, as they say, is history. After 14 years with the USFWS, I moved to my current position with Texas Parks & Wildlife – still travelling and burning, but now just throughout Texas.
Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? I try to find a way to do both. Weather is highly variable, so trying to plan a burn well in advance is most often an exercise in futility. I’ve found that the best approach is to take advantage of those good fire weather days as soon as possible because you might not get many more opportunities in a given burn season. This was relatively easy when I worked for an agency that had dedicated fire staff and equipment. With that being my only frame of reference for many years, I always that just thought that was the way it was done. The last few years in my new job working with private landowners, PBAs, and other agencies has shown me that this approach was the exception rather than the rule. While I was used to deciding to burn a particular unit the day before, I quickly learned that that’s more than often not possible in the “real world”. Now, I have to work through the same challenges that everyone else does in trying to balance prescribed burning with everything else we have to do. So how do I plan well in advance yet still take advantage of those good fire conditions? The very first thing is to set expectations from the start of the planning process. The more flexibility we can set in the burn plan, the more chance of success in both meeting the management goals or even getting a chance to burn. I try to dissuade my landowners from picking one specific day well in advance to burn. Sometimes it’s just the way it has to be, but I would much rather plan for a 3-5 consecutive day burn window during burn season or several days throughout the season. Planning to burn on January 22 really paints you into a corner and limits your flexibility. I’d rather see something like planning on burning January 20-23 and then picking a specific day once we are about a week out when the weather forecasts are a little more accurate. I’ve also had success with planning on burning on several days spaced out over time, such as Fridays in February. Breaking up a burn area into several smaller units and not just one large unit can also help to take advantage of those “just right” burn conditions and also allow for success if the burn day is marginal, but the people and equipment are available and ready to burn. More often than not it will take less people to burn a smaller burn unit, so it may be easier to get enough folks to burn 50 acres on short notice rather than 400. Along those same lines, if we have planned on a burn day in advance and the weather isn’t right for burning the whole unit there may be possibility to burn a smaller area. If the RH is too high, can you burn a small portion to make a blackline or buffer? If the wind direction isn’t good for the whole unit, can you still burn part of it that won’t smoke out your neighbor or that highway? I had one larger burn planned well in advance when we were going to have the proper amount of people and equipment, but it ended up snowing that day. We were still able to take advantage of having everyone there by burning piles that were along the edge of the burn unit, making burning the large unit much easier. I also try to make my prescriptions as broad as possible to take advantage of “marginal” burn days. For example, higher winds can offset higher RH and still produce adequate fire behavior to meet management goals. Having really good fire breaks can also let you take advantage of those marginal days on the other end of the prescription. I’m much more comfortable burning under hotter and drier conditions if we have nice and wide fire breaks down to mineral soil and no brush or volatile fuels close to the line. The bottom line is that building flexibility into the planning process and the burn plans will allow more success. This can also help in avoiding those situations where you may get stuck trying to burn under marginal conditions and either not meet management objectives OR have the fire get away.
What’s the hook for you on fire? I think there has been three different stages of my fire career, each with their own hook. When I first started, I loved prescribed fire because it was fun, exciting, and allowed me to travel. What 22-25 year old guy wouldn’t love traveling all over the country dragging a drip torch or working on a fire engine, right? After several years of this, fire is still exciting and fun but not the main reason that I enjoy prescribed burning. About 8 years ago I would have probably said that I burned just because it was a job, but looking back on it that’s not the case. At that point I loved prescribed fire because of the challenge/problem-solving aspect of it. I enjoyed (and still do) being given a difficult assignment on a burn and trying to find the best and safest way to complete it was the hook for me. Now, the main reason I love prescribed fire is that I can teach people about prescribed fire. When we assist a landowner who has little to know experience with fire (or who’s only experience is with wildfire) and show them what a properly planned and executed prescribed fire looks like, the reaction is always the same – “that wasn’t that bad/scary. I think that’s something we could do.” I love that. Or when you can see the light bulb come on as someone is doing something as simple as operating a drip torch. That’s the hook for me. I’ve seen it time and time again and it doesn’t matter who it is. Young or old, man or woman. At first they are timid, walking slow maybe even holding the torch with two hands. At the end of the day they are slinging that torch like a hotshot and showing others how to do it. That’s the hook for me now. I still enjoy the fun, excitement, and challenge – but the teaching/mentoring is what motivates me to keep burning.
In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? First of all, it’s a successful fire when everyone gets home safe (that’s probably the wildland firefighter in me). If we managed to keep all the equipment running and didn’t break anything, that’s a plus. I also think it’s successful if everyone involved learned something on the fire. It doesn’t really matter what they learned – as long as they learned something. It can be about fire behavior, specific firing techniques, weather influences, how a particular fuel burns, the planning process, etc. Even if someone learned that they don’t really care for burning and it’s not the tool for them, that’s still an important thing to know. A burn is also successful if we can put a column of smoke up in the air and it doesn’t result in a ton of calls into 911, worried neighbors, etc. This is really important in the wildland-urban interface. Getting communities more comfortable with prescribed burning is vitally important in growing the fire culture here in Texas. The last measure of success for me is meeting the management objectives. If we can be successful in all of the ways above and still meet objectives, than I’d consider a burn to be fully successful. If objective aren’t met yet everyone is safe, folks learned a thing or two, and we promoted the fire culture a little in the area – I’m still more than pleased.
Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without? That’s a tough question just because I burn in so many different places with so many different folks. In most cases, I will do a burn on one ranch or with a cooperator and then on the next burn I do there will be a whole new set of people. I suppose it is one disadvantage of my job that I’m not able to burn with the same people every time. If you do 30 or 40 burns with someone, you get to know how they think and are able to predict their thoughts and actions somewhat. It’s like playing pick-up basketball. You play with the same bunch of guys for long enough, and you start to know each one’s tendencies and strengths/weaknesses. Then you go to a different court or gym and have to learn it all over again. In the second situation, you can only be successful if there is plenty of communication and everyone is willing to work with each other. Seems to me that’s about the same as a burn crew. Our staff here at TPWD are very well trained, so even if I’ve never burned with one of our employees or even just met them – I know that they have been trained to the same standard that we all have and know the basics. I’ve always had positive experiences burning with the PBAs as well. The wealth of knowledge and experience in all of the burn associations I’ve worked with is such that I’m comfortable on those burns even if I’ve never met some (or most) of the folks on the burn. So, I guess an answer to the question is that there isn’t anyone that I wouldn’t burn without. I don’t really have that luxury. As long as everyone is willing to learn and communicate, I’ve always had good experience with all my burn crews – even complete strangers.
Thank you Wesley for all that you do for prescribed burning on Texas rangelands!
This October we are featuring Mr. James K. Rooter Brite, Jr. from Bowie, Texas. Rooter is a father, rancher, conservationist, and my friend. The Brite Ranch has been a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) for Rooter’s entire life. He has been a director of the TSCRA since 1999, and has served on their Agriculture and Research and Natural Resources and Environmental committees since 1994. He has served as a director of the Upper-Elm Red Soil and Water Conservation District since 1979. He has served on the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts board and on the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. He represents the National Association of Conservation Districts on the National Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative steering committee. Additionally, he serves on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Natural Resource and Environment Committee.
How did you get your start in ranching? I am a third
generation on this ranch. I was born and raised on the ranch where my grandfather J.A. Brite purchased in 1929. I took over my dad’s cow herd in the mid-1960s and purchased the ranch from dad in 1974, when I began full-time management of the ranch with my wife, Lynda, and eventually my son, J.K.
How important is agriculture to your family? Agriculture is about one third of my income. You have to look at the cumulative value of everything you do on the land. Management decisions you make now will make a difference 30 years from now. It all adds up, whichever direction you go. At an early age I learned the cause and effect of different land management practices. These first-hand lessons I learned from the land stimulated my desire to learn more and be diversified in my management. I apply land management practices that are practical, using common sense. I don’t do things because they are what somebody else thinks might be good. I do things because they work on this land, and that’s what makes the difference.
What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? The only constant is inconsistency with the weather and markets.
Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education? There needs to be a much greater attention on ag, but it must be taught by qualified and experienced teachers.
Who did you learn the most from along the way? By college age, I was intrigued by the land so I enrolled in Texas Christian University’s two-year Ranch Management program. TCU Professor Chip Merrill inspired me to try new things and not be afraid to try something different. I approached the resource management of the ranch using a short-term reactionary response to changing forage, production, and anticipated market condition. My long-term management is of a continuing upward trend in success of native forage. I feel like we can utilize our current management methods and maintain, or in areas of need, improve the productivity of this ranch in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.
Since working with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, I have been in awe of our County Extension Agents. Most often their hours align with famer’s hours – sunrise to sunset (and if they are between those times, red bull drinks are always in their hands). They love their community, they love agriculture, and they love the people that embody both of those things. They are the heartbeat of Texas agriculture. What they do for their job, how they do their job, where they do their job absolutely amazes me. That said, I wanted to learn more about our County Extension Agents – I wanted to learn why they do this job.
I have started a new blog series called “Meet a County Extension Agent” and I hope you enjoy getting to meet these incredible folks as much as I have.
Our October issue features Michael Palmer, Coleman County Extension Agent. Mr. Palmer is a one-of-a-kind agent, and in my opinion he just gets it. He is open-minded, willing to learn, willing to work hard, and makes everybody feel like they are contributing toward a bigger purpose.
Meet Mr. Michael Palmer:
Why did you become a County Extension Agent? I have always had an interest in agriculture and have been involved in farming and livestock operations with my family since childhood. I knew I wanted a career in agriculture and the opportunities that Extension offers only enhance the desire to be involved in agriculture. I like the diversity that being a county Extension agent offers; things are always changing.
What are some concerns specific to agriculture in your county? Coleman County is a diverse county made up of range and pasture, as well as cultivated land. Agriculture is a key industry here. Many producers continually conduct brush control, as it is a never-ending issue with undesirable and invasive plants. Predator control is another issue landowners face; specifically wild hogs. Coleman County has a large number of sheep and goat producers who, along with the wildlife industry, face challenges with predation caused by coyotes and bobcats. Many farmers are currently facing challenges with low wheat prices and high input costs. Alternative crops have been looked at but no silver bullet has been found.
What is the most rewarding part of your position? Being able to make a positive difference within the communities where I live and work; and make a difference in the relationships I develop with the people of the counties I have worked in the past 19 years.
What is the weirdest request you have ever received as a CEA and how did you solve it? It would be hard to narrow down to only one request, but I have had several requests over the years that were “odd”. That’s what I like about being a county Extension agent; you never know what the day holds or what the questions will be.
If you could be anything else, what would you be? I don’t know that I would change what I do because a career as a county Extension agent is more of a lifestyle than a job. I get to combine the work I do with my hobbies/interests and am always garnering knowledge that I’m able to apply to each.
Thank you Mr. Palmer for all you do! We are grateful to have you!