Prescribed fires are planned

MEDORA - The National Park Service is hoping the weather will cooperate to do prescribed fires for sometime between this coming Monday, April 9, and Tuesday, May 15, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit.

MEDORA - The National Park Service is hoping the weather will cooperate to do prescribed fires for sometime between this coming Monday, April 9, and Tuesday, May 15, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit.

The prescribed fire projects by the Park Service are to cover 300-400 acres in the park with each burn varying in size. Park staff anticipates the main park road to remain open while the burning takes place.

"These small segments are unlike some of our other prescribed burns we did in the past," TRNP Chief of Interpretation Bruce Kaye said Wednesday. "Small units are easier to handle and accomplish. There are two 20-acre, two 40-acre and one 45-acre units along the loop road, with a 120-acre unit near the horse round-up camp. Then another 100-acre unit by our radio tower at the west end of the park and a small 5-acre unit."

The smaller units are to be done first and then the others, he added. All unit sizes reported are planned, but due to conditions and what is feasible could change those sizes when the burns take place.

The projects are to be done during daylight hours and involve 16-25 people from Park Service units and other federal land management agencies from North Dakota and South Dakota.


"Over the last 10 years, we've burned larger parcels, sometimes 400-500 acres at a time," Kaye said. "We've done a lot on the east side of the park boundary and along the interstate."

The Park Service had hoped to begin the burns this week, but due to recent snowfalls put it off another week.

"Mid-May is our window when we want to get those areas done so when spring rolls the burn sites will barely be noticed by visitors," Kaye said. "Weather is the key element and we continually monitor it and will go with the forecast."

A recent park press release stated a prescribed fire is "a fire started by park managers for a specific purpose and is an important tool used to protect, preserve and maintain healthy prairie ecosystems."

Gary Luce, fire management specialist for all North Dakota national parks, has extensive experience with prescribed fires around the country, specifically the southwest.

"We first consult with the park resource managers according to their priorities," Luce said. "Complexity of the burn and weather conditions also is required to prescription set by a burn plan."

Luce has met with Billings County Fire Chief Don Heiser and Assistant Chief John Hild, along with other key community members involved in the county and city.

"Typically, we notify county folks, sheriff and fire departments and private landowners in the immediate area of the burn and widen that scope to be good neighbors making sure there is no undue concern or alarm," Luce said. "We want to make sure people know what's going on and there is no confusion."


Signs are placed along the road and at park visitor centers notifying the public of the burn on the day.

The Park Service policy stresses fire management as a resource benefit and not simply just for repressing future fires, which means understanding fire's relation to the landscape, planning for accidental wildfire and using prescribed fire as a land management tool is important.

In support of the national policy, a fundamental goal of the park's fire program is to protect lives, property and resources, while restoring fire as a natural and dynamic process to maintain healthy ecosystems, the press release stated.

A temporary exhibit at the South Unit Visitor Center is on display for the pubic to learn more on the role of fire in natural systems and is on display until May 1. A more specific fire information source regarding TRNP and the Northern Great Plains is .

The press release states research has shown diversity for native grassland and forage quality deteriorate when fires are absent for a long period of time. Fire transforms dead plant materials into soil nutrients and increases the amount of nitrogen fixing microorganisms and encouraging plant and animal diversity across the landscape.

The wide variety of plants and animals people expect to see in a national parks is partially the result of past fire activity.

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