Spring pasture burning in the Flint Hills could become a thing of the past if the state and area counties don’t come up with a plan to curb excessive smoke.
Fire supervisor Bruce Brazzle told Pottawatomie County Commissioners Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency is threatening action against the state after smoke plumes from pasture burning this spring activated air quality monitors in several out-of-state locations.
“The EPA’s not kidding around,” Brazzle said. “If the KDHE (Kansas Department of Health and Environment) doesn’t get a handle on this, we won’t be burning much longer in the Flint Hills.
“We’ve got to come up with a plan,” Brazzle said. “We’ve got to come up with some solutions.”
The EPA delivered its message recently at meetings of the Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management group at Yates Center and Emporia.
On April 5, the smoke plume from pasture burning in the Flint Hills set off air quality control monitors four different times in both Lincoln and Omaha, Neb., according to Brazzle.
“They’re not real happy with us,” he said of the Nebraska cities. “They’re threatening to sue the state of Kansas and the EPA has been on our tail.”
On April 12, the smoke plume from Kansas pasture burning tripped monitors in Iowa and Illinois and the plume nearly reached the city of Chicago.
“Now that it’s out-of-state we’ve got to come up with a better plan,” Brazzle said. “The EPA carries a pretty big stick and they’re not going to allow people out-of-state to get sick and have asthma attacks because of what happens in Kansas.
“I’m not saying I agree with it or disagree with it,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”
Due to the lingering drought, only 217,377 acres of pasture were burned in the Flint Hills in 2013, according to figures from the KDHE. This year, however, more than 2.5 million Flint Hills acres were burned.
Of the 20 counties comprising the Flint Hills, Pottawatomie County ranked eighth in pasture burning in 2014 with 120,882 acres burned, according to Brazzle.
Chase County burned the most acreage at 288,529, and Wilson County the least at 33,236 acres.
Wabaunsee County ranked fourth with 240,173 acres burned, and Riley County ranked 12th with 84,032 acres of pasture burned.
Some remedial measures being considered by the Flint Hills group and the KDHE include adding pasture burning restrictions to counties outside the Flint Hills; making smoke plans required in some or all Flint Hills counties; requiring burn approval in all Flint Hills counties; restricting times for burning; giving the secretary of the KDHE authority to ban burning on specific days; and banning burning on days in which air quality could be severely impacted.
“Once we come up with some better answers and solutions we’ll come back to you guys and see how you want to proceed,” Brazzle told commissioners.