After smoke from agricultural burning in the Flint Hills of Kansas brought a haze to southeastern Nebraska this week, Gov. Pete Ricketts and Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler are asking Kansas officials for a better plan for such burns.
The smoke prompted the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department to issue a health warning on Wednesday, advising people to stay indoors. Several schools in Lincoln and Omaha called off outdoor recess, and a Lincoln elementary school even rescheduled its field trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium because of poor air quality.
Taylor Gage, Ricketts’ spokesman, said the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality is continuing to talk with counterparts in Kansas, who have been very “positive” about the conversations.
Because of spring rain and high winds in March, the opportunity for burning in the Flint Hills was limited to early to mid-April, said Brian McManus, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.
“That led to really concentrated burning, which was more of a problem,” McManus said. “We need to find out what can be done to cooperatively spread out these burns over a longer period of time.”
McManus said the burns in Kansas are done to reduce the risk of wildfire, provide better forage for cattle and prevent invasive Eastern redcedar and sumac from spreading across the Kansas plains.
“We understand that burns are a necessary tool for land management,” McManus said. “Nebraska does controlled burning, too. But we need to have an ongoing discussion with Kansas about how best to do it.”
Beutler’s office received more complaints about the smoke than in previous years, said Rick Hoppe, Beutler’s chief of staff.
“It’s clear that this is really impacting Lincoln citizens,” he said.
While Beutler’s office is “exploring all options,” including legal action, Hoppe said the first step will be a letter to Kansas officials outlining the health risks of the lowered air quality in Nebraska and asking for a commitment to spread out the burning over a longer period of time. The office plans to send the letter early next week.
“Obviously it’s always best to do this in a cooperative way,” Hoppe said.