Smoke 'Debate' Is Not An Honest One
Burning pastures isn't the real issue; day-to-day pollution is the culprit
Published on: April 8, 2011
The ongoing "debate" about whether ranchers should burn the Flint Hills prairie in the early spring is getting on my very last nerve.
News reports about health hazards from drifting smoke were all over the place yesterday after a couple of afternoons when smoke from prairie fires drifted over Wichita for a couple of hours.
The smoke management plan worked out by state legislators, cattlemen, city officials and EPA last winter includes a ban on types of outdoor burning other than pastures for the month of April. Meaning that urban dwellers are, gasp, prohibited from using their patio chimenea for a few weeks.
In reality, the outdoor burning hoopla, whether it be from prairie fire or roasting hot dogs in a fire pit, is -- pardon the pun -- a smokescreen.
The truth is that smoke from the prairie fires of a few days in April isn't the real issue. The issue is that levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air every day of the year are right at the threshold of health risk. Those pollutants absolutely do not come from pasture burning. They come from automobile exhaust and industrial smokestacks.
If people stopped sitting in the fast-food or Starbucks drive-thru with their engines running and instead parked their cars and walked into their favorite high-fat, high-calorie eating establishment, the headway at reducing ozone would be amazing.
We could increase the percentage of ethanol in transportation fuel and lower the levels some more. We could require better scrubbers on factory smokestacks and make even more progress.
But that would require the urban population that is actually responsible for high levels of pollutants 52 weeks a year to clean up their own mess.
It is so much easier to pretend that we can solve the problem by prohibiting a 2-week-a-year, time-tested, proven, best management practice that keeps the last remnant of the world's most endangered ecosystem healthy.
When we have turned our Tallgrass Prairie treasure into a red cedar forest and hedge tree forest and Wichita's air is still polluted, maybe folks will see it wasn't the prairie burning that did it. But it will be too late.