Opinion Columns & Blogs

Smoke plan historic

We can all breathe easier because of this month's historic agreement to implement the Flint Hills smoke management program.

Air-quality staff from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency have been actively involved in developing this agreement. We want to acknowledge the constructive leadership of partners such as Kansas State University, the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas legislators, ranch owners, stock raisers, local governments, conservation and wildlife organizations, and the nearly 2 million Kansans whose health depends on the way we reconcile national air-quality goals with economic prosperity.

At some political risk, we agreed back in the spring to bring to the table Flint Hills stakeholders such as the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Prescribed Fire Council, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance. We want to acknowledge good scientific, legal and technical advice offered by KSU, the Kansas Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Kansas Emergency Management Association, Johnson County, Sedgwick County and a host of others.

Hard work by dozens of concerned folks should lead to Flint Hills burning that better reconciles national clean-air goals, prosperity of Kansas' vital livestock industry and the ecological health of our tallgrass prairie.

There are many components to the smoke management program, including best burn practices. There are several burn practices that can help reduce the impact on air quality. Most techniques involve minimizing smoke production and burning.

Developing management tools and education are key components of the agreement. We want to notify local residents about the dates of proposed burns and explain the health impacts. We will provide outreach to landowners on the use of best management practices to minimize the impact of the burns. In addition, about 16 counties (in the Flint Hills area, plus Johnson, Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties) will implement temporary burn restrictions for the month of April for certain types of burns that are unrelated to the maintenance of the tallgrass prairie.

The agreement also includes a smoke plan pilot project. Chase and Greenwood counties have been selected to participate. Both counties will be encouraging individual landowners to develop tailored burn plans that incorporate best burn practices.

A smoke plan document was developed and will be available along with other resources on a fire and smoke planning resource website, www.ksfire.org, and will be distributed by individuals such as county extension agents.

Federal and state partners worked with the Kansas agricultural community and our key partners to devise reasonable, homegrown, science-based policies that acknowledge the important role of agricultural burning in a way that supports efficient agricultural production as well as a healthy environment.

The smoke management program contains the best ideas from some of the brightest folks in Kansas and is designed to support public health, ecosystems and the important Kansas agricultural communities.