You are here: Home / Users / sean.hubbard@okstate.edu / Oklahoma resiliency on display

Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Oklahoma resiliency on display

STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma has developed a propensity to demonstrate an incredible amount of resolve over the years.

About this time every year, Oklahomans’ minds and hearts wander to the state’s capital. They relive the gruesome images that are forever etched in their minds from the Oklahoma City bombing.

But then they think of everyone - policemen, firefighters, paramedics and the general public alike - who came together to rebuild the city, bigger and better than before that fateful day.

The actions of the entire state immediately following the explosion led visiting rescue workers and journalists to dub our lifestyle The Oklahoma Standard. That standard lives strong today.

Additionally, tornado sirens are a familiar sound in the ears of our citizens. Nonstop weather coverage, warning us of dangerous weather nearby is an annual reminder of some of the worst natural disasters the state has endured. Most recently, the 2013 EF5 Moore tornado that tragically took the lives of 24 people, injured nearly 400 more and destroyed approximately 1,150 homes resulted in an estimated $2 billion in damages.

Oklahoma again rose to the occasion, came together and rebuilt. While any and all devastating events have brought forth different pains and struggles to the state, the common theme of coming together and dusting off the ashes for the greater good has prevailed.

Just this March, the Anderson Creek megafire, which is the largest wildfire in Kansas history, burned nearly 400,000 acres in Woods County, Oklahoma, and Comanche and Barber counties in Kansas.

AndersonCreekFire.jpgThe fire started in northwestern Oklahoma and proceeded to burn more than 620 square miles of prairie and cattle grazing land. While there were no human fatalities, more than 600 cattle were killed, or are missing, and at least 16 homes and 25 structures were lost, as were countless miles of fencing.

A drone video, courtesy of the Kiowa County Media Center, shows how massive the fire was and the incredible efforts of land owners and firefighters to contain it. However, under those conditions, that was not an easy task.

“There was nothing we could do,” said John Weir, research associate in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. “A fire that like is going to stop when it gets a break in the fuel, or the weather changes. That’s it.”

Prescribed Fire.jpgTwo weeks later, the 350 Complex wildfire scorched nearly 60,000 acres just northeast of Woodward, Oklahoma. Somehow, the people of this fine state always find the strength to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, dust themselves off and get back in the saddle.

“We’re back in the saddle again,” said Weir. “Out of the ashes, we make more ashes because we know it is important.”

This time, getting back in the proverbial saddle meant conducting a prescribed fire. The benefits of prescribed fire far outreach the fear of smoke on the horizon. No one understands that more than Katie Blunk, Cimarron Range Preservation Association president.

“We had more than 30,000 acres burned by Mother Nature’s standards, rather than by our prescribed burn standards,” Blunk said. “About 20 of our members were affected by the wildfires. They lost their hay, their fences and they had some livestock losses. “

The CRPA had done much of the preparation work to burn some of these areas before the wildfires came through. However, the weather conditions were not right to conduct a prescribed burn.

“We had 2,200 acres ready to go,” Blunk said. “We just couldn’t get that fire in before wildfires came through. If we could have had that done before the wildfire, we’d of had a natural firebreak already in place.”

But, safety is the name of the game when it comes to prescribed burning. No one would burn with 50 miles-per-hour winds and humidity under 10 percent - no one except Mother Nature.

“We prefer to work with Mother Nature, on our terms, when she's in a good mood providing positive outcomes, not against her, when she's in bad mood with terrible winds and no humidity, wreaking havoc and leaving unwanted collateral damage in her path,” Blunk said. “That is the message we would like to share to all those who fear burning. Prescribed burns are an absolute necessity to preserve our rangelands and maintain a balanced ecosystem.”

That is why Blunk and the CRPA rallied together, once the weather conditions were perfect, and led a prescribed burn of 1,200 acres about three weeks after the region was devastated by wildfire.

“We are experienced stewards of the land, exercising the three p's: proper planning, proper preparation and exercise proper practices and due diligence, whether in the wake of devastating wildfires in the area or any given day we elect to burn,” Blunk said. “We embrace a huge responsibility to each other, our neighbors and the land we work to improve.”

Fire is necessary, whether by our design or nature’s. The intensity of a wildfire like the two a few weeks ago is much greater than a prescribed fire and will ultimately end up being positive for the region.

“A prescribed fire would not have had as great of kill on eastern redcedar as the wildfires did,” said Karen Hickman, NREM professor. “While it’s tragic that people lost property in structures, houses and livestock, most realize the effect of removing so many eastern redcedars will result in more forage production and be positive for that ecosystem.”

The fires were able to get down in canyons that have proven to be difficult and expensive to eradicate eastern redcedar trees.

“The cedar trees that got burned up in these fires is a blessing, but it didn’t even make a dent,” Blunk said. “Without prescribed fire, it will continue to create this fuel load that will always put people in the line of fire.”

The areas blackened by the fires, both wild and prescribed, are resilient. With a bit of moisture and a little sun, the landscape will be green and again full of life. Much like the people of Oklahoma, the land will persevere and come back stronger than ever.

###

Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures.  This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; phone 405-744-5371; email: eeo@okstate.edu has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Director of Equal Opportunity. Any person (student, faculty, or staff) who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154.

REPORTER/MEDIA CONTACT:

Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
157 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: sean.hubbard@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000