Roger Mills Prescribed Burn Association in Oklahoma


The Roger Mills Prescribed Burn Association formed in 2006 and covers Roger Mills and Beckam counties. The group addresses the four common reasons people do not use prescribed fire: liability, training/experience, labor and equipment.

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This is Playa Country — a weekly look at the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them — brought to you by Playa Lakes Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to conserving birds and bird habitat.

We’ve been talking about landowner conservation partnerships — people from various perspectives, with a common goal of improving the land and wildlife habitats. Today’s example of such a partnership is the Roger Mills Prescribed Burn Association in western Oklahoma.

Scientists now understand that the plants and wildlife of the Great Plains adapted over the millennia in the presence of fire. The plants and critters depended on fire as a primary factor shaping food supplies, reproductive strategies and survival mechanisms. But with the advent of European settlers, fire was suppressed. Habitats became dramatically altered, making them unsuitable for many of the native animals and plants. Today, ranchers wage war against Eastern Red Cedar, Russian Olive and other invasives that sap water from the soil and reduce the productivity of grassland.

“Research has clearly shown that there is no substitute for fire. And if you don’t burn, you’re not taking care of your land. Now that’s a little rough on some people, and they might be a little offended, but that’s what the science has to say about it. If we pull fire out of the landscape we’ve got a very dysfunctional landscape.”

Terry Bidwell puts it right out there. He’s Professor of Natural Resource Ecology & Management, at Oklahoma State – Stillwater. There’s renewed knowledge and interest in putting fire to the land, according to John Weir, a research associate at OSU.

“Nothing mimics what fire does. Fire really and truly is just as important rainfall and the soils that are there on the ground.”

John puts results of research to work, teaching land managers to burn. Ranchers and landowners are partnering with range management experts to form burn groups. Peter Berthelson, with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever in Nebraska, has helped set up burn groups.  He says such groups can solve the big impediments to burning.

“I don’t know how to burn; I don’t have the equipment to burn; or I don’t have enough people to burn.”

These groups get educated on burn safety and the need for having a burn plan. Members pool equipment and resources, and they help one another on burn day. The Roger Mills Prescribed Burn Association, formed in 2005, is one of the earliest. Karsen Davis of Elk City Oklahoma is president.

“A bunch of it is just burning off CRP, then they’ll burn off a bunch of shinnery. Some people want to set back the shinnery and everything. Main thing I burn for is eastern red cedars. You can kill every one of them. They’re just a plague!”

The burn association has about 30 members.

“Everybody from bankers to… I’m a printer… the actual farmers and ranchers, teachers.”

But ranchers fear run-away fires — another reason good education is important.

“You can lessen your liability if you have a burn plan and you follow it. Everybody’s concerned about liability.”

Another example of neighbor helping neighbor. Southwest Kansas rancher Ted Alexander, a burning proponent, says Kansas burners are partnering with burn associations in Oklahoma and Texas.

“To join all those together so we have several hundred people involved in prescribed burning to get insurance.”

Karsen Davis says he’s seen more interest in prescribed burning in the past year, than in the past two or three years together.

“People realize it is a viable organization. More people are getting on board with it, too, and the funding is coming around.”

The Roger Mills Prescribed Burn Association is another example of  landowner conservation partnerships. Peter Berthelson sums it up.

“The best way that I can describe a burn association — it’s neighbors helping neighbors.”

You’ve been listening to Playa Country, a weekly show about the wildlife, people and landscapes of the western Great Plains. This program is made possible by the Playa Lakes and Rainwater Basin Joint Ventures.

Original broadcast: August 2013

Posted: August 30, 2015
Topics: Conservation Partnerships, Prescribed Fire