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Where There Is Smoke, There Are Scholars

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Looking back at the 1,000-plus-foot tall column of smoke, I could hardly believe this fire would ever go out.

I had never been a part of a prescribed burn, but I had always wanted to. In fact, I had been sort of cheated out of an opportunity to do a small burn in a range improvement course last February because we couldn't get the weather conditions we needed. So, ever since, I'd been chomping at the bit to experience it.

After conducting about a 180-acre burn on a producer's ranch near Whitesboro, Texas, I completely see why Steven Smith, a wildlife and fisheries consultant at the Noble Research Institute, is obsessed with prescribed burning. This burn was a unique experience for me because it took place in July. I had barely known anything about growing-season burns until coming to Noble. In classes we rarely mentioned them, so I thought the whole premise would be inferior to a traditional-season burn.

I honestly did not believe green, actively growing grass could burn so well. After seeing how effective this burn really was and learning about all the benefits, it made me question why anyone still burns during that traditional time frame of late winter/early spring.

Let me be the first to tell you that I can see why some would steer away from wanting to burn during the growing season. It was around 95 degrees to begin with, and we were starting massive fires that threw an extra several hundred degrees into the mix. At some points, I did believe we were going to melt. On top of that, we were working with several older ranch hands and helpers who all conveniently got to ride around in the tractors and pickup trucks. So, all of us young, tough scholars were handed the torches and shown where to walk. I am sure we all walked more than a mile back and forth through the pasture in the sweltering heat. I myself easily went through a dozen waters in just more than an hour and a half.

Something I thought was entertaining was Steven telling us "Hey, slow down, look back and enjoy your handy work." Every time we would look back at what we had just lit, the plume became taller and wider. It was too tall for my phone to capture the entire thing in view.

Everything went smoothly and everyone came in safe, which is always a good measure of success. We didn't incur any bonus acreage, which is also a good thing. We were treated to a wonderful lunch by the producer's wife and sat up on top of the hill and watched the rest of the pasture go up in smoke.

I hope to bring my newfound knowledge of growing-season burns and their unique benefits back to San Angelo, and I can honestly say my new favorite tool is a drip torch.

Cole Fagen conducts a prescribed burn

About the Author
Cole Fagen is a 2018 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Highland Village, Texas. He is majoring in natural resource management at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. His major project is to develop an educational wildlife and nature walk through a section of the Noble Learning Center.

Cole Fagen
2018 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture