The Prairie Project focuses on research, extension and education
Rangelands in the Great Plains, and the ranchers who depend on them, are losing battles against an invasion of brush and shrubs on historical grasslands.
Ranchers are under increasing stress due to changing environmental conditions and subsequent losses of rangelands to woody plants, but a relatively new management approach shows promise in turning the tide against encroaching brush and shrubs.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist Brad Wilcox is among a group of researchers, extension specialists and educators who hope pyric herbivory will one day become a routine point of conversation in rangeland conservation and wildfire mitigation.
Pyric herbivory utilizes controlled patch burns to promote forage growth. Over thousands of years, fire and mixed animal grazing helped shape the Great Plains, which cover more than 452 million acres across 12 states.
Wilcox, Ph.D., AgriLife Research ecohydrologist in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bryan-College Station, said the invasion by woody plants like cedar and mesquite presents a host of problems for producers, native ecosystems, and properties in both rural and urban areas.
Wilcox is leading a consortium of researchers, extension specialists and educators looking to help ranching operations and landowners prevent and reverse rangeland losses by replicating natural fire and grazing.
This undertaking, the Prairie Project, is a team effort that spans many institutions, agencies and disciplines. The project promotes pyric herbivory, mixed animal grazing and other disturbance regimens on rangelands in the Great Plains to make these areas more resilient to woody plant encroachment, wildfire and extreme heat events.
The Texas A&M University-led project is a collaboration with Oklahoma State University and the University of Nebraska and is funded via a five-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to test and promote pyric herbivory and other replicated natural disturbance regimens.