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The request last month from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment just made sense. If you manage pasture or prairie land in Kansas, and if you usually burn it during the spring, please don’t do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the potential for this pandemic overwhelming the state’s medical facilities, any additional respiratory concerns that could be produced from breathing smoke from prescribed fire need to be mitigated,” KDHE secretary Lee Norman was quoted as saying at the time.
Apparently, that advice was ignored.
Officials say burning continued unabated, at usual levels for this time of year. Land managers should have respected the warnings of health officials and put the health of their fellow Kansans ahead of projected economic gains.
The science on grassland burning is crystal clear, unlike the air produced during the burns. Ranchers can wait to burn without sacrificing their land or livelihoods — indeed, recent research suggests burning can be done at different times over the year.
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“It really hasn’t gone as well as we had hoped,” said Rick Brunetti, KDHE’s director for the bureau of air, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter and Sherman Smith. “We are seeing a great deal of burning. We have not seen the reductions in burning that we were hoping for.”
Gov. Laura Kelly and state officials showed a great deal of respect for the agricultural sector. No executive order was issued. No mandate was created. A gentle suggestion was made, one that anyone who has experienced the burns would understand. Land managers and ranchers should show a similar respect for the health needs of Kansans, especially those struggling with respiratory problems that could be intensified by a deadly disease.
There has been much grousing and wringing of hands among certain sectors of the state GOP about Kelly’s series of executive orders during the pandemic. Their message, if it could be boiled down, is that Kansans know the right things to do. They will look out for their own health and that of others. They don’t need a Democrat to force them.
Unfortunately, the response to the plea about burning shows that Kelly understands the situation better than her critics.
A gentle request, one supported by science and plain common sense, was discarded by those who sought better yields. Land managers should reconsider and do the right thing.