Fire is a natural and necessary component of the South Central Plains ecosystem. However, fire suppression and more frequent droughts in the region have resulted in a build-up of dry fuels loads such as dead wood, resulting in fires that burn hotter and impact the landscape more severely. Uncontrolled wildfires have cost the region several billion dollars over the past five years. Further, fire suppression has resulted in substantial losses in native plant biodiversity and wildlife habitat, which also has costly implications. In Oklahoma alone, it’s estimated that $157 million will be required to restore rangelands to their native conditions. Of further concern is the fact that projected changes in climate indicate that the region will continue to experience hotter and drier conditions, meaning that fire risks will continue to increase unless proper management strategies, such as prescribed fire, are implemented.
In order to develop effective fire management responses, ongoing research into the changing scope and intensity of fire regimes in the region needs to be better connected to management practitioners and their expertise. This project was designed to help managers respond to changing fire regimes by analyzing historical climate observations and future projections to identify days which are suitable for prescribed burns as well as days of high wildfire potential. Results from the analysis were presented and discussed at a fire summit convening leading researchers, agencies, and land owners. The summit also brought together fire experts to discuss the safe and proper application of fire in a changing and variable climate, along with management strategies for fire and its role in combating invasive plant species, maintaining productive landscapes, and enhancing wildlife habitat.