BISMARCK-It's been more than a decade since fire raged through grass and into the ponderosa pines west of Amidon in 2004, burning a relatively narrow strip some 6 miles long on private and public lands in the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

Removing some fuel from the 7,000-acre footprint of the state's only ponderosa pine forest is one way to prevent a catastrophic result should fire come again.

The U.S. Forest Service, along with the North Dakota Forest Service, plans to remove live trees and fallen tree snags on five priority areas encompassing 676 acres on public grasslands starting this year.

Shannon Boehm, Medora District ranger for the Forest Service, said the work will complement some thinning by the state Forest Service on adjoining private lands, all of it intended to help prevent severe damage in the event of another wildfire.

Smaller and damaged trees will be cut down to create the desired density in the forest and the unwanted wood, along with fallen snag wood, will be dragged into slash piles for winter-time burning. At one time, prescribed burns would have removed low-growing understory, fallen needles and dead grasses in the forest, but not now and not in this situation.

"There's no political will for that on the western side of North Dakota," Boehm said. "And a prescribed burn, in and of itself, is not going to do it - we'd still have to do mechanical removal."

Work will start this year and Boehm said the partnership with the state Forest Service will continue for the foreseeable future.

"It's just getting started," he said.

That 2004 fire affected the Logging Camp Ranch, and the ranch's John Hanson said the fire jumped through the ponderosas, leaving a mosaic of fire-damaged and healthy timber.

"In our case, we got really lucky is what we got. It could have been a complete incineration, but we were in a sweet spot," he said.

The Deep Creek Fire, caused by an equipment malfunction downwind and named for the landscape it burned through, did have a positive outcome, because people who had been opposed to thinning the forest lands now understood the benefit, according to Hanson.

"It really did get people's attention," he said.