Fire in South Dakota: An Introduction

March 27, 2014 06:36 PM
Fire in South Dakota: An Introduction

By: Pete Bauman, Range Field Specialist, SDSU Extension

Its March in South Dakota and winter hasn’t loosened its grip as this article is being written. We are used to working around the weather, but as we flip the calendar to March, we are forced to start planning for spring activities, regardless of spring’s travel plans. Along with calving and planting for many; at least for some spring planning also includes the use of fire.

SDSU Extension has been working over the past year toward improved fire education and outreach. We’ve been gathering information on the role of fire in South Dakota: past, present, and future. We understand and appreciate the differences and complexities of our state’s regions and its peoples. South Dakota’s land and the resources it harbors are much greater than the sum of its parts, and collectively the challenges of fire management in our state’s habitats are highly variable. As a result, a historic and natural tool like fire can be lauded as a hero and a villain.

The fire hero has the potential to release lower Missouri River ranches from the clutch of encroaching cedar and juniper trees, invigorate grass growth in an eastern pasture, and reduce fuel loads in the Black Hills. It has the ability to rejuvenate a neglected pasture in the Summit Hills to a lush carpet of grasses and flowering plants. As much as the fire hero is heralded, the fire villain is despised....maybe even more so. Unplanned wildfires or well intentioned prescribed fires gone awry can lead to bewilderment, confusion, and loss resulting in unsatisfactory answers that often create bitterness and disdain for such a powerful tool.

Any tool with the potential to cause significant impacts, both positively and negatively, deserves to be treated with respect and the outreach efforts of SDSU Extension reflect that philosophy. As our capacity grows, we will continue to work with partners and landowners to provide fire training and education in workshops and classrooms. Over the next several months we will also continue this iGrow article series on fire, dissecting various fire issues and providing technical information intended to advance the knowledge and understanding of fire, not only as a historic force that shaped our landscapes, but as a modern tool that can be applied judiciously and safely for the benefit of people and resources.

Not all fire is created equal, not all fire is bad, and not all fire is good. We have lost homes and property in South Dakota to fires of various origins. Those memories can be real, painful, and persistent. However, the fire tool continues to have relevance, and through this series we hope to cover a suite of topics demonstrating that well planned, well executed, and well communicated fire remains a viable option for land-use needs that have few, if any, alternatives.

Practical consideration of fire starts with education. It is in that spirit we are announcing the latest effort related to fire planning and education. SDSU Extension along with SD NRCS, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, and other partners involved in the Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership will be hosting a series of Landowner and Agency CRP/Grassland Fire Planning workshops in March of 2014. Anyone considering fire use owes it to themselves and their neighbors to become educated, and we are here to help.

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