Park's prescribed burn raises questions
DICKSINON - How does a national park conduct a controlled prescribed burn when the county in which it exists has a burning ban due to ongoing drought conditions?
"Because of the nature of how we do it...we are not exactly covered by the burn ban," Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Valorie Naylor said regarding this past Sunday's efforts along the south unit loop road. "We do talk to the county ahead of time so they are aware during the high fire danger. Everybody was notified about what we were doing prior to."
Burning bans currently exist in 21 counties across the state, including Dunn, Slope, Billings, Bowman, Stark, Hettinger and Golden Valley. The park's south unit is in Billings County.
Naylor said the four small burns that involved a total of 220 acres were not conducted on an extreme fire danger day and that Sunday was an excellent day for burning. Prescribed burns are something the park does almost annually. Naylor said natural fire is an important component of the prairie ecosystem.
"To maintain a healthy ecosystem we need to burn it now and then. It converts dead plants to soil nutrients. It encourages plant diversity and animal diversity," she said.
Naylor said the burning went exactly as planned and there was some expected residual smoke after.
"Some people though we were burning after that, but in fact we were not," she said.
The areas to be burned are carefully laid out and consider natural barriers, mow lines and other aspects, Naylor said. To create a mow line, a weedwacker is used to knock down brush and grass over an area that's 8 feet wide. The burning crew included about 20 people, including park employees, U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife employees and members of the Northern Great Plains Fire Use Module stationed in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
"Their job is specifically to do prescribed burns," Naylor said of the individuals from the Black Hills organization. "It was a picture-perfect burn in my opinion."
There also were several engines, ample water and the appropriate tools needed to conduct the burns, she added.
"These are experienced firefighters with all of the appropriate equipment," Naylor said. "These are all good people with training and know exactly what they are doing."
There were rumors circulating this week that a number of buffalo were driven out of the park by the smoke associated with the Sunday burning.
"There is nothing that shows that any animals ran from the smoke from the burn," Naylor said. "As for wildlife, nothing is really affected by the burning. The burning is slow and controlled. No animals have any need to run from the burn."
Naylor said there are two bison that got outside of the south unit and have since been located, but their leaving the park was unrelated to the prescribed burn.
Sunday's activities conclude the burning planned for the park's south unit.
"Our next burns would be scheduled for the north unit of the park," Naylor said. "We'll get those done if and when those conditions are right."
Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services reminds everyone there are penalties for ignoring a burn ban and not knowing about the ban is not an excuse.
A first offense of a burn ban infraction is a $500 fine. A second offense is a Class B misdemeanor, with up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The daily Rangeland Fire Danger rating can be found online at www.nd.gov/des/info/firedanger.html.