Greener on the Other Side?

Like domestic cattle, bison are grazers. However, they prefer young, tender grasses and eat few forbs (broad-leafed plants such as wildflowers). Bison roam freely on 23,000 acres at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and they eat what the prairie provides — grass, and lots of it.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma | August 03, 2012

Bison and fire

Ironically, just as grazing is important to the health of the prairie ecosystem, so is fire. Since 1990, the Conservancy has used prescribed burns on more than 306,000 acres at the preserve to mimic the seasonal fires that have shaped the prairie for thousands of years. Using a “patch burn” approach, Conservancy fire crews burn one-third of the preserve each year in randomly selected sections, meaning that some sections may be burned several years in a row and some sections might not be burned for several years. Areas not burned for several years develop mature grasses and thicker, thatch-like vegetation — habitat preferred by species like Henslow’s sparrows. Following a burn, new grass growth flourishes and is thus favored and avidly grazed by the bison.

It may not be greener on the other side of the fence, but for bison... it's definitely greener on the other side of the smoke.

Oklahoma Fire Facts for FY2012 - The Nature Conservancy had a relatively low year for prescribed burns in Oklahoma due to the persistent drought. However, we had a relatively active year chasing wildfires. Within the last 12 months in Oklahoma, the Conservancy has: 

  • Conducted 13 prescribed burns on 6,646 acres of Conservancy land.
  • Assisted with prescribed burning on 9,060 acres of private ranch lands and 3,480 acres of state land.
  • Suppressed 3 wildfires on Conservancy land that burned 336 acres.
  • Assisted our neighbors in suppressing 6 wildfires on private ranch lands.

Slideshow about the use of fire on Oklahoma Preserves ►

Learn More

· Use of Fire at the Nickel Preserve
· Bison, Fire and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
· 50 Years of Burning in The Nature Conservancy
· Re(Born) of Fire: Before and after images from controlled burns

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

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