Range specialist recommends conservation stocking rates
A producer performs a prescribed burn in Jim Hogg County, southwest of Corpus Christi. Wildfire danger remains high throughout most of the state. Controlled burns such as this one, done when conditions are right, can prevent wildfires from raging out of control, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service rangeland specialist.
As the drought-like conditions continued for much of Texas, so did the threat of wildfire, according the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Forest Service personnel.
The Forest Service warned that as of about midday March 22, there would be “extremely critical fire weather conditions ... west of Big Bend, San Angelo. and Wichita Falls, including major cities such as Lubbock, Childress, Abilene, Midland, Odessa, and Amarillo.”
The predictions were based on a combination of conditions, including higher-than-normal temperatures and winds, low relative humidity, and a plentitude of dry grass in pastures and rangeland.
The Forest Service reported it put fire-fighting equipment -- bulldozers, fire engines, and aircraft -- in place for the Tuesday [March 22] threat.
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the state remained dry, including South Texas.
“Coming into March, South Texas received less than 25 percent of the normal rainfall,” said Dr. Megan Dominguez, AgriLife Extension range specialist, Corpus Christi. “A lot of the farmers and ranchers are concerned, and there’s been some delay in crop planting.”
Dominguez said there were some scattered rains in early to mid-March, which greened up pastures and rangeland grasses, but for the most part, there has not been enough moisture to promote vigorous growth.
Despite the rain, the danger of wildfire remains high with numerous red-flag warnings, especially out west, she said, but some ranchers have been able to do controlled burns when wildfire danger was low.
“This has really helped to get rid of that high amount of weed and grass growth from last year,” Dominguez said. “I would encourage anyone to do the same -- if the weather conditions become right.”
Dominguez said there were signs the La Nina current, to which the drought conditions are attributed, is weakening. In the meantime, she recommended ranchers keep stocking rates conservative until they know what the weather is going to do. With cow prices as high as anyone can remember, trimming down herds shouldn’t be too economically painful, she noted.
“Getting rid of cattle this time of year when you’re concerned about precipitation is not a bad deal,” she said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the region remained dry, about 8 inches below the long-term average for moisture accumulation since Aug. 1. High, dry winds, along with afternoon temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s, further dried out soils. There was a conspicuous absence of spring flowers such as bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, which normally begin to appear along roadsides in March. Reports of roadside fires were very high. Also, the frequency of wildlife being killed on highways was high as animals sought grazing in rights of way, usually at night. Farmers planted irrigated corn and sorghum, and both crops made good progress. However, dryland crops needed rain very soon to make any progress. Farmers gradually gained momentum planting irrigated cantaloupes, watermelons, green beans, sweet corn, and cotton. Most pastures and rangeland grasses remained dormant due to the dry spell. Forage availability was below average.
Compiled from Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.