Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rx Fire

Ronnie and I are headed to a ranch near London, TX this Wednesday. We are going to spend a couple of days burning a pasture for one of our clients. This will be our first prescribed burn of the summer, and it should be a hot one! The weather forecast is calling for temperatures in the 100’s. That in itself isn’t too bad, but once you start lighting everything around you on fire it can get a little warm. I am hopeful that his burn will be the first of many for us this summer and fall. We had a very busy winter this year, but things have been pretty slow the last few months. Things tend to be slow during the rainy spring months. Typically, we do the majority of our prescribed burning in the summer months. In this part of Texas, most ranchers have a serious problem with brush. Most of the ranches in West and Central Texas are over-grown with juniper, mesquite, and prickly pear. Therefore, to manage these noxious brush species, we burn them. Moreover, we burn them in the hottest, driest part of the year to inflict the most damage to the plants. We call these reclamation burns, and it allows a rancher to get back on top of his brush problem and make the forage much more productive for livestock or wildlife. About 4 years ago, I moved out to Sonora, TX from College Station, TX to conduct research for my master’s degree in Rangeland Ecology & Management. During my undergraduate time, I developed an interest in brush management – more specifically in the use of fire to manage brush. It just so happens that an opportunity came my way to spend some time in Sonora conducting research on fire, and of course I took it. Over the course of the next year, I participated on several prescribed burns and this helped to solidify my desire to do this full-time. There was a lengthy certification process that I had to go through to become a certified prescribed burn manager, but once that process was complete, I was able to burn commercially for ranchers and landowners around the state without the restrictions of county burn bans. About a year ago, I started a company called Dryhalla Rangeland Services LLC. The function of this business is ranch/ rangeland consulting and to conduct prescribed burns for landowners and ranchers across the state. I believe God intended us to be stewards of the land he entrusted to us. If you know much about what the landscape looked like a couple hundred years ago, you would know we have done a pretty poor job of it. So we’re trying to do something to reverse the damage done, and what better way than with the use of fire – a natural brush control method. And really what better job is there than setting thousands of acres on fire legally . . ?

Ronnie, being from the Northeast, had no concept of prescribed burning until she met me. However, she desired to learn all she could (in a very short period of time) about this area of my life. She attended a burn school and participated on quite a few burns this past winter, and it didn’t take long before she bacame very knowledgeable about fire behavior, fuels, vegetation types, fire weather, fire suppression equipment, etc. In the 6 months we have been married, we have been on numerous burns. Some of the burns went exactly as planned - the weather cooperated, the crew was adequate to great, the goals and objectives of the landowner were met, etc., etc. On the other hand, a couple of those burns were complete nightmares. Not nightmares because the fire got out of hand or the fire escaped and burned an area it should not have, but because the forecasted weather was completely wrong and/or the personnel assisted on the burn were half-wits! I am not being unkind when I call these dudes half-wits. They deserve much, much worse! I have at least given them credit for half of a wit, when I am almost certain they are completely witless. So in a short period of time, Ronnie has been on some thrilling if not scary burns.
All that to say that the 6 months in which Ronnie has been my partner in Dryhalla Rangeland Service LLC has been exciting. We have seen a dramatic increase in business. We are learning to be better business owners. We have been able to spend everyday together working side-by-side during some very stressful moments and many sleepless nights (A feat many married couples might not want to try or be able to pull off). For us the opportunity to get to spend every moment with each other, regardless of the hectic nature of our business, has been a blessing. Many times the opportunity was there for one or both of us to lose our temper or get fed-up, but every stressful moment has only managed to bring us closer together. As we become better at the business side of this business, we are also becoming more confident and much more knowledgeable about running and operating a business. We have learned from our mistakes and are now able to visit with a landowner and then help him or her make some decisions regarding their ranch that will ultimately make both of our jobs easier. What I mean by that is, when we first started burning as a business, we took every job that came our way and we didn’t make too many requests of the landowner for fear that we might lose their business. Now we are much more selective about what jobs we take and can confidently tell a landowner what he needs to do for us to be able burn his property. I must say, the stress level has dropped dramatically. I am becoming a much better people manager and Ronnie continues to learn more and more about fire and how it behave, and she has progressed to the point where she now carries the drip-torch on all of our burns and is in charge of the ignitions. It makes me very proud to see her interact with all these old ranchers and explain to them why we are doing something a certain way, and I love the way she puts all the old timers at ease by the way she calmly handles the tough situations. This business is very male-dominated and Ronnie has certainly been a breath of fresh air. You can see that for some of these guys the thought of bringing their wives on a burn never occurred to them. But after spending a day with Ronnie, we are starting to see a wife show up on a burn here and there. We’ve truly been blessed to be able to spend our days traveling the state, meeting with ranchers, and setting things on fire, and the best part of all is. . . I get to do it all with my best friend!

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