Friday, August 28, 2020

Good and timely nature question

Morning in Kimball, August 27, 2020.


Cattle on a hot summer day.


John Blackshoe posed a good and timely nature question in a comment to my previous post.

Nature question, when you have time. "Short grass prairie" is what you have. Not sure if it is short because your cows keep it neatly trimmed, or the vegetation/moisture doesn't let it grow taller.
Over on the Pacific coast where they get lots of rain, and therefore lots of vegetation-grasses and trees- they get lots of wildfires. Get into timber country and they get them too, lots from lightning, too many from stupid ape lizards. I don't recall hearing about many many prairie fires in NE/CO/KS, although they were a fearsome factor in pioneer times, and subject of several dramatic paintings. All part of nature's surprises, I guess. So, do you get many fires in your region?

As the name suggests, short grass prairie refers to a grassland ecosystem where the stature/speciation of the grasses is shorter than mixed or tall grass prairie ecosystems.

In general, grass stature is most highly correlated with precipitation. Speciation is also correlated with precipitation. Of course precipitation is basically the supply source for water, and plants take up water for the soil, so measured precipitation is really just a proxy for the important thing, which is soil moisture. Or even more precisely, moisture in the soil which is actually available for uptake by plant root systems. There's more detail here.

In this part of the country where the stature of the grassland ecosystem is comparatively short, there is comparatively less fuel load per unit of measure, and therefore not as much stuff to burn when fires start. Land topography is generally more flat, there is generally more fallow or bare farm ground, and there are generally more roads. This combination provides for fire breaks and for quite rapid response to wild fires. The population density is very small, so direct human impact is also very small.

In a nutshell, we have wildfires around here all the time, but they only rarely get so big and out of control that they become newsworthy or cast a lot of smoke downwind.

Where do our wildfires come from? It's the usual suspects. Lightning and people. During a dry year, which this year certainly qualifies as, the Kimball Rural Fire Department gets called out into the country 2-3 times each week. We've been getting a lot of essentially rainless thunderstorms, so lightning often strikes dry grass or crop residue and there's not enough rain to quench any fires that start. Farmers harvesting grain start a lot of fires too, because tractors, trucks, and combines have internal combustion which sometimes leaks out and moving parts can get hot and/or produce sparks. It's just not uncommon at all for a farmer to lose an entire field of grain plus several trucks and combines to a wheat or millet field fire.

As to dryness, average January-August precipitation is 13.1 inches. Thus far in 2020 we've measured 9.2 inches. So it's pretty dry.

Several years ago in the autumn we had a fire on the south unit sparked by downed power lines. It was quite a frightening experience for me and I was quite thankful for the RFD's prompt and professional response.

So yes, we get 'em, and they can be big and bad, but they impact relatively few ape-lizards, don't make a lot of smoke, and don't victimize the professional victim class so they're rarely reported by the artists formerly known as reporters.


Ice cream!


Dotted Gayfeather, a favorite late-summer wildflower.

More of the same. It was very hot. My Dad's cairn is on the south side of the fence.


Evening in Kimball, August 27, 2020.

We're soldiering on. The youngest had been on a counting kick for several months; she delighted in being able to enumerate objects up to five. "One, two, free, four, five!" The last few days she's been counting "Mommie, Shaun, Gabe, Zeke, Evie." It's part of her little two year old grieving process. It's not even the tiniest bit different than mine. There's sorrow and joy, sadness and hope in that. We have a home filled with love while many do not. It's a blessing.

Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


  1. We had the short version of buffalo grass on the farm where I grew up.
    Never got more than a couple inches tall, as was a great reducer of mowing requirements around the farm yard.
    I would have liked to take some to where I currently live, but mountain soil doesn't have the depth needed for buffalo grass.

    1. Buffalo grass is good stuff. High nutrient density and reliable. Few people know how deep grass root systems go. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Frank!

  2. Thanks for the education!

  3. you're welcome John. Great question!

  4. Grass ecology gets interesting. The Denver area, back in the day, was mainly short grass prairie. The area east of present Golden along Clear Creek was a swath of long grass which led my great grandfather to homestead there. Prior to urbanization, that swath was many vegetable growers selling produce at a market in Denver. Rich soil and reliable subsurface water was the key. The reliable water only extended a few miles and ended at the confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River.

    The old homestead now.

    1. Nature does amazing things, including creating pockets of very different stuff in the midst of great tracts of other stuff.

      Most people have no idea how far dow grassland root systems go, particularly in semi-arid climates.