OSU hosts first of three NRCS national fire schools

Sean HubbardOSU Ag Communications

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State University has a strong reputation in the world of prescribed fire. This has led the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to select OSU to teach its national fire school since 1996.

Of the six national fire schools attended by NRCS employees, researchers in the department of natural resource ecology and management will be hosting three of them this year. The first of which, “Burning in Tallgrass,” took place in Stillwater from Jan. 12 through Jan. 16.

“We hit the key topics they need to know about and get as much into those as we can,” said John Weir, fire ecology research assistant and leader of the classes. “We introduce them to a lot of that stuff in the classroom, then go apply it in the field.”

The 25 NRCS employees in the class, representing eight states, spent their mornings in the classroom discussing everything from the history of fire and writing burn plans to fire prescriptions, weather conditions and the effects of fire on wildlife habitat.

“The goal is to train these employees so they are knowledgeable and comfortable with talking to landowners about fire, and writing burn plans to provide assistance,” Weir said. “The primary thing about prescribed burning is safety. We stress that first and foremost.”

Through the workshops, the NRCS employees are now armed with more knowledge and experience with prescribed fire, which makes them more comfortable and confident when talking to landowners in their own respective states.

“Prescribed burning is a practice we use to manage resources around the country,” said Chuck Stanley, NRCS rangeland management specialist. “Prescribed burning is one of those technical applications that requires a lot of training to be able to do it safely. For our employees to be able to assist the producers out in the field, they need to have the knowledge about why burning would be their best choice to do it.”

Each morning classroom session was followed by hands-on exercises in the field. When weather conditions allowed (all but one day), actual burns were conducted. The only day without a prescribed fire allowed the NRCS employees to review and gain experience with much equipment.

“We teach them all the techniques, about the equipment, how to do it and hopefully they take this back and train their people wherever they came from,” Weir said.

Stanley said he enjoys bringing his crew to the trainings offered by OSU and looks forward to the relationship continuing in the future.

“We certainly want to have the very best teaching our employees how to do it,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a bad review. Our employees really learn a lot.”

OSU will host the “Burning in Oak Pine Forests” and the “Burning in the Growing Season” workshops later this year.