The Sand Hills of Nebraska have bounced back after devastating wildfires in 2012. That is the finding of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dirac Twidwell, UNL assistant professor and rangeland ecologist, says the fear of permanent fire damage to the grasslands is unfounded.
“They’re remarkable resilient to fire,” Twidwell tells Nebraska Radio Network. “In fact, fire, historically, is why we have grasslands. Grasses do better than other plant types and other types of vegetation in response to fires.”
Twidwell says plants growing in the burned areas were as strong as those in unburned areas, two years after the fire.
He says preventing fires from occurring may be more harmful.
“The removal of that fire leads to a very different fuel type,” Twidwell explains. “Here in the Great Plains, we have an increasing volatile fuel source – Eastern Red Cedar. We actually, widely planted, but it takes advantage of the loss of fires.”
Twidwell says state and federal rules preventing fires for fear of destabilizing the Sand Hills are not needed.
However, he says there is a legitimate concern for human safety and property damage with wildfires.
“The removal of fire has led to some slow changes in systems,” he says. “How do we sustain these grasslands in the future – because we do see threats at the front door of places, like the Sandhills. We’re working a lot with landowners and agencies in the state to really understand what those relative threats are.”