Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Smoke On the Horizon

Why burning in the fall could be right for your land


For years, prescribed burning has always been associated with spring, but as more is learned about managing grasslands with fire, more landowners are beginning to conduct prescribed burns in the summer and autumn too. Fires at different seasons have different effects on the plants and animals.
Researchers at Kansas State University recently conducted a study that looks at 20 years of data concerning the consequences of burning Flint Hills prairie at different times of the year. It finds that burning outside of the current late spring time frame has no measurable negative consequences for the prairie, and in fact, may have multiple benefits.
The results of this study found that when the prairie is burned in fall or winter, grass composition and production was not negatively affected compared to burning in the spring.
While every site is different and should be evaluated appropriately for best time to burn, here are a few of the potential benefits to burning in the fall or winter.

  • Grasses burned in the winter or fall had more time to respond to precipitation, which reduced their susceptibility to mid-season drought.
  • Burning in the fall or winter Burning may result in a more diverse prairie with more cool-season grasses. These grasses are available earlier and are of a higher forage quality for cattle.
  • Burning in the fall or winter may reduce the risk of injury or death to some wildlife. By burning when many animals are active, fires in the late spring can devastate wildlife. Snakes, turtles, prairie chickens and other nesting birds are less likely to be destroyed during fall and winter burns, as wildlife is often hibernating underground or have not yet built nests.
  • Staggering prescribed burns throughout different seasons can help manage the volume of smoke in the area and reduce the impact on towns downwind.

Driftless Conservancy