There have been several wildfires this spring that have affected range and pasture lands across Nebraska. Although the immediate aftermath of a fast-moving fire can look quite devastating, most of our perennial pasture grasses will recover with adequate moisture.
One of the key impacts of a wildfire is the loss of plant residue and litter that protect the soil surface. This residue is important for reducing wind and water erosion and the loss of soil moisture. Some of the wildfire areas had significant winds during and after the fire. This likely led to some scouring erosion around the plants. At the time of the fire, many cool-season grasses had started their initial spring growth or green-up. They will be set back a little, but they will recover.
An important grazing management recommendation following a wildfire is to delay turnout, possibly as long as one month. This is both for fire recovery and drought potential. This will allow the grass plants to maximize growth given the current soil moisture conditions, resulting in greater season-long production.
High winds and low humidity continue to fan fires in New Mexico that have grown to over 230,000 acres as of May 11, causing President Joe Biden to issue a disaster declaration in the affected counties.
Secondly, stocking rates should be reduced with the objective of leaving adequate residue, which will become litter on the ground. This is to replace what was lost in the fire. Rainfall in May and June will be critical and should be the guiding factor affecting any of the above management decisions.
It is not uncommon to see a greater number of annual weeds show up in a pasture after a fire. While this may look concerning, these weeds can actually be useful; they have some forage value or will turn into residue and cover at the end of the season. Their numbers will decline the following year.
Byproducts of a wildfire include areas that were disked for a firebreak. Ideally, these areas should be reseeded using the same grass species found in the rest of the pasture. If this cannot be done within the next few weeks, a summer annual forage crop could be planted as a cover, and then the producer can plan for reseeding the perennial grasses next spring. — Jerry Volesky, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension range and forage specialist