Landowners throughout Texas are confronted with multiple difficult decisions regarding rangeland management. Of foremost concern is the need to pursue economically profitable objectives pertaining to wildlife and livestock while concurrently avoiding ecosystem alterations that negatively impact the ecological integrity of their land. Despite management efforts, woody plants and cacti continue to invade and degrade rangeland ecosystems. Mesquite (Prosopsis glandulosa), juniper (Juniperus spp.), and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) are particularly problematic in Texas rangelands. Increases in their abundance and distribution diminish range quality and lower economic returns for rangeland managers. It is therefore imperative to develop strategies capable of reducing undesirable, invasive plant communities at a cost that is feasible for widespread application. Traditional management strategies have shown either limited effectiveness as a restoration tool or are economically cost prohibitive. We have been conducting experimental studies assessing the utility of prescribed extreme fire (PEF) to kill woody and succulent plants while promoting the regeneration of desirable herbaceous species.
Our results suggest these growing season fires are both safe and encouragingly effective at reducing woody plant encroachment. Further, we have documented interactions between PEF and wildlife herbivory that have significantly reduced cactus cover. Unlike traditional applications of prescribed burning, PEF has the potential to overcome the resilience of rangelands degraded by persistent invasive species. Nevertheless, widespread application of PEF as a restoration tool hinges on our ability to shift the social perceptions driving the application of fire on rangelands. We highlight how some social groups have overcome constraints to apply PEF across expansive regions in Texas with the aim of restoring the ecological integrity and economic productivity of rangeland environments.