Fire has been a “hot” topic of late given the wide-spread and costly effects of the 2011 fires (over 616,000 acres in the Trans-Pecos alone) and the Livermore Ranch Complex Fire in Jeff Davis County during spring, 2012 (over 14,000 acres). The Rockhouse Fire in 2011 in Presidio and Jeff Davis Counties was especially destructive in terms of damage to homes and agricultural infrastructure, including fences and water systems. No one should suffer the loss of his or her home or other property in the interest of any perceived ecological benefit, however, when these events do occur it is prudent to analyze post-wildfire effects as to ecological improvements or damages.

Additionally, it is widely accepted that grassland ecosystems such as those of the Chihuahuan Desert have evolved with fire and generally benefit from the application of controlled burns. Research in this area advances in parallel with that investigating the effects of wildfire.

Potential benefits of fire include rejuvenation and enhancement of vegetation used as forage and cover for livestock and wildlife, reduction of woody vegetation in areas formerly dominated by herbaceous species, and soil enhancement via deposition of organic material. Conversely, wildfire or inappropriately applied prescribed fire that occurs during drought or at other times when such fire is inordinately intense may result in the loss of desirable vegetation that is slow to regenerate, as with burned stands of large trees, and other undesirable effects such as sterilization of the seed bank. In the worst cases, homes, barns, fences, pipelines, standing grass available for livestock, and other economic assets are lost to uncontrolled wildfire or prescribed fire that jumps containment lines.

Some of our research into the effects of both prescribed burns and wildfires on west Texas ecosystems includes:

Evaluating vegetation and soil microflora response to the Rockhouse Fire,

Measuring the effects of prescribed fire and herbicide application on whitebrush,

Evaluating the effect of prescribed fire on tobosagrass communities, and pronghorn habitat in the Trans-Pecos