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Energy and Environment

Nebraska's Legal Options Limited In Kansas Prairie Smoke

flint_hills_fire.jpg
Patrick Emerson, flickr Creative Commons
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Nebraska has limited legal options regarding the smoke carried into the state from Kansas ranchers who annually burn tallgrass prairie, a Lincoln attorney said.

A group of ranchers in Kansas' Flint Hills burned around 2.3 million acres of North America's largest unplowed stretch of tallgrass prairie Saturday. The burning led to complaints from neighbors in Nebraska due to winds carrying the smoke into the state, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Lincoln attorney Steve Mossman, who specializes in agricultural and environmental law, doesn't think Nebraska could successfully sue Kansas authorities to regulate prescribed burns because courts are reluctant to force them to regulate against their will.

"That's a claim that rarely gets anywhere," Mossman said.

He also said individuals who experience loss, such as asthma attacks or canceled sports tournaments, might have a better case, but such lawsuits would require listing hundreds of landowners burning all at once.

Mossman suggested that cooperation and better communication between the two states would be a more beneficial option.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment adopted a formal smoke management plan in 2010 that provides daily updates during prime burning season on how fires set on certain days are likely to hurt air quality in nearby areas that include Lincoln and Omaha.

Kansas usually burns in the Flint Hills area around March and April every year to stave off invasive species, preserve pasture, improve cattle forage and limit fuel for wildfires.

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Aileen LeBlanc is news director at KMUW. Follow her on Twitter @Aileen_LeBlanc.

 
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