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May 10, 2014

Smokescreen lifted on post-fire land management

STILLWATER — Oklahomans are frequently reminded of the devastation that comes with wildfire. Homes, structures and livestock are lost, while landowners who rely on grasslands, shrublands and forests as an enterprise are left trying to figure out how to recover the vegetation and habitat.

“Many people don’t understand the role of fire in the ecosystem,” said Terry Bidwell, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension rangeland ecology and management specialist. “Fire has been, and still is, an essential part of maintaining healthy native grassland, shrubland and forest ecosystems and has positive impacts.”

The proper use of prescribed burning will lessen the impacts of wildfire, but there are some management guidelines to follow after a wildfire.

“Following a wildfire, management practices need to be applied that encourage desired plant growth,” Bidwell said. “The desired plants will depend on the objectives of the landowner.”

If grazing is planned on burned areas, proper grazing management practices need to be applied that promote the growth and vigor of the plant community.

“The impacts of a wildfire on forage production are similar to a prescribed fire and landowners should take advantage of that,” he said. “For example, we can expect a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in stocker cattle gain, or about one body condition score increase for cows on burned areas. This is true for either a wildfire or prescribed fire. That is why many ranchers burn. They also get the added benefit of brush control.”

Several management considerations following a wildfire should be taken to ensure the desired outcomes. Included in those considerations are that some areas may need to be deferred until plant growth is adequate to support grazing. This is highly dependent on precipitation.

Proper stocking rates always should be used, and with adequate precipitation, areas can be grazed with intensive early stocking, as long as producers make sure to remove cattle by July 1 and not graze the area again until after frost. Also, rotation of salt, mineral and feeding locations and avoiding the same areas and plants at the same time each year will benefit.

“The impacts of wildfire to the land are beneficial and landowners should take advantage of them. Some of the wildfires that removed large eastern redcedar could be worth as much as $200 per acre in cost savings of cedar removal,” Bidwell said. “The key is to not overreact. All of Oklahoma’s ecosystems are fire dependent and therefore adapted to fire.”

Landowners can receive more information from OCES Fact Sheet NREM-2881, “Management after Wildfire.”

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  • Candidates disagree with White House’s minimum wage

    Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said the state needs to have serious growth in high-paying living wage jobs that will provide for Oklahomans.
    Dorman cautioned that while Oklahoma’s jobless rate improved in June, the state’s rankings for the well-being of children has dropped from 36th to 39th place, for one of the largest declines in the U.S., according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Project.
    The unemployment rate in June dropped to 4.5 percent, down a percentage point from 4.6 percent in May, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Gov. Mary Fallin said this week.
    The state’s unemployment rate was more than 7 percent when Fallin was elected during the brink of the Great Depression. Alex Weintz, communications director for Fallin, pointed out that per capita income in Oklahoma was second in the nation from 2011 to 2013.
    The non partisan Congressional Budget office reported in February that raising the minimum wage could kill a half-million jobs in the United States.
    According to The Washington Times, CBO analysts reported, “Once the other changes in income were taken into account, families whose income would be below six times the poverty threshold under current law would see a small increase in income, on net, and families whose income would be higher under current law would see reductions in income, on net.”
    President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.
    Weintz said the governor believes tax cuts have enabled families to keep more of their money.
    No one is talking about the under-employment rate of families working minimum wage jobs, Dorman said.
    “It’s all fine and good when you have fast-food jobs that don’t cover the bills and that counts toward your unemployment rate.”
    Oklahoma’s minimum wage reflects the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, a standard set in 2009.
    Fallin signed legislation this year to prohibit municipalities from raising their local minimum wage above $7.25 an hour.
    “If the minimum wage goes up to $15 in Oklahoma City, all of the sudden you would drive retail, business, service industry locations outside of the city limits and that would be detrimental to the economy, consumers and to businesses,” Weintz said.
    Fallin has said that she opposes raising the minimum wage in Oklahoma because it would stifle job growth for small business and lay off workers. A lot of people earning the $7.25 minimum wage are part-time workers and many of them are students, Weintz said.
    “We believe raising the minimum wage is not a good way to address poverty,” Weintz said. “A lot of people earning the minimum wage are actually people living with their parents or other people who are employed full time, and in many cases they are middle class families. So it’s not a good tool to reduce poverty.”
    Dorman said he does not necessarily support the proposed $10.10 an hour minimum federal minimum wage that is being discussed by Congress.
    “I think we need to have a living wage in Oklahoma that is reflective of our economy,” Dorman said.
    About 102,300 jobs have been added in Oklahoma since Fallin took office in January 2011, according to her office.
    The cost of living in the national economy tends to be higher in some other states, Dorman said.
    So a minimum wage increase should be tied to economic gains so that families can pay their bills and afford to care for their children, Dorman said.
    Independent candidates for governor include Richard Prawdzienski of Edmond, Joe Sills of Oklahoma City and Kimberly Willis of Oklahoma City.

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