Broadcast Audubon

Kansas Prairie Fires

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Fire is as much a part of the prairie landscape as grass. Before settlement, tallgrass prairie covered 170 million acres of North America from Texas to Canada. Frequent fires (ignited by native peoples or lightning) maintained the grassland, destroying shrubs and trees that would otherwise encroach on the land while letting native fire-adapted grasses thrive. Today, less than four percent of the prairie remains, mostly in eastern Kansas and Oklahoma, and fire is still a critical component of the ecosystem.

“We can’t have prairie without fire,” says Jason Hartman of the Kansas Forest Service. “Doing controlled burns is safer for the public than wildfires. “ While fires are helpful year-round, most prescribed burns occur in the spring, peaking in late March and April, as shown in the image above. Outlined in red, widespread fires were burning on March 29, 2014, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired the image. Freshly burned land is dark brown or black.

Because Kansas does not have a reporting system for prescribed burns and wildfires, it’s unclear just how much land burns every year, says Hartman. Satellite images help scientists assess how extensive fires are in a given year. The false-color image below, taken by Aqua MODIS on March 31, illustrates the extent of recent fires. The image includes both infrared and visible light so that newly burned land is dark red.

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Fire has many roles in preserving the prairie. Fires remove old plant material, consuming dry, dead grass and woody shrubs and trees and returning nutrients to the soil. The burn exposes soil to the sunlight, and new grasses grow quickly in the warmed soil. Young plants are more palatable to grazing animals, including cows, buffalo, and deer. As a result, newly burned land attracts animals. Native Americans recognized this fact and used fire to bring game. Today, ranchers also use fire to improve rangeland for their cattle. The new plants are more nutritious and contain more protein, and so animals that graze on fire-controlled grassland are 10 to 15 percent larger.

Fire is also an inexpensive way to control invasive species, including the Eastern red cedar, without pesticides. While the tree does grow in Kansas and Oklahoma, fire has confined it to protected landscapes like sheltered ravines. If fires did not occur, the trees and other woody plants would quickly infiltrate the grassland. Within 30 years, the prairie would become a forest and grassland habitats would disappear.

References: NASA images courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. NASA Earth Observatory

SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

The Oaks Equestrian Center First to receive 5-Star Rating and Seal of Sustainability

Rhonda Gailey

In early 2008 The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility joined as a pilot member of the Audubon Lifestyles Sustainable Equestrian Facility Program, a voluntary program that is setting the standard for sustainably-managed equestrian facilities. The facility was recently recognized by Audubon Lifestyles as the epitome of sustainability by receiving a Five-Star rating. In doing so The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility became the first equestrian facility in the world to receive the designation. In addition to receiving the Five-Star rating from Audubon Lifestyles, The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facilityhas also been issued the Seal of Sustainability from the International Sustainability Council (ISC).
The Oaks is a project of Dicks Realty which is located in Lake City, Florida, in the triangle between Ocala, Jacksonville and Tallahassee. The planned neighborhood development has over 1,200 rolling acres, filled with large, mature oak trees, and is located near the Osceola National Forest.  The development includes more than 15 miles of looped riding trails, giving residents and property users the feeling of being in a wilderness. In addition, the cross-country course (custom designed by Olympian David O'Connor) and custom top-of-the-line 33-stall barn is complemented by a competition-quality outdoor ring, covered round pen, and a large covered arena. These features and more distinguish the O'Connor Signature at the Oaks Equestrian Center as a truly premier and one-of-a-kind equestrian facility.  

In June 2009, The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility prepared Oconnor Signaturefor the on-site audit conducted by R. Eric Dodson, CEO of Audubon Lifestyles, "I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility, and the staff should be commended for doing an outstanding job. Rhonda Gailey, the General Manager, in particular provided me with invaluable information about the equestrian industry and the issues related to properly managing an equestrian facility. This information will undoubtedly lead to further improvements and help to strengthen the Audubon Lifestyles Equestrian Facility Program. I am grateful to The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility and their participation as a pilot member, and I am certainly proud to showcase The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility as the first Five-Star Audubon Lifestyles Equestrian Facility, and to issue the International Sustainability Council's Seal of Sustainability to the facility,” commented Mr. Dodson.
  The Oaks Logo
“Participating in this process seemed like a natural fit for us, as the O'Connor Signature Brand itself was developed using sustainable models that included economic, social and environmental considerations,” said Rhonda Gailey, General Manager for The Oaks Equestrian Center - an O'Connor Signature Facility.
  The Oaks Facility
The Audubon Lifestyles Equestrian Program includes guidelines and incentives for equestrian facility owners and managers seeking to adopt economic, environmental and socially-responsible best practices. In addition, the program includes safety protocols for horses and riders, as well as criteria for facility planning, environmental practices and operations. Through these standards, equestrian facilities will be recognized for following design and operational parameters that promote all aspects of sustainability. 
In addition to setting the standard for sustainably-managed equestrian facilities the Audubon Lifestyles Equestrian Facility Program was developed to offer achievable, yet comprehensive sustainable programming to equestrian managers and owners, and to reward facilities that do more, than the minimum through a series of recognition and branding opportunities. Not every facility will choose the path toward sustainability, but those that chose to participate will become the leaders in the industry.

To learn more about The Oaks Equestrian Center visit:



References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon Lifestyles

The International Sustainability Council 

O'Connor Signature at the Oaks

The City of Franklin, Tennessee


American Society of Golf Course Architects

Sustainability Campaign

Green Living Tips

The Daily Green

Energy Star

Bird City, Kansas 

Urbana University


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A Coalition for Good - Spreading the Seeds of Sustainability

ISC-Audubon is a coalition of non-profit organizations and initiatives that include The International Sustainability Council (ISC), Audubon Lifestyles, Audubon Outdoors, Planit Green, Broadcast Audubon, and the Audubon Network for Sustainability. 

Funds generated through memberships and donations are used to provide fruit & vegetable seeds, wildflower seed mix, and wildlife feed & birdseed to urban and suburban communities around the world. These seeds are used by communities to establish fruit and vegetable gardens, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and for the beautification of urban and suburban landscapes by creating flower and native plant gardens.

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