Range science specialist says fire no benefit to native prairie

Range science specialist says fire no benefit to native prairie

20 April 2013

published by www.bismarcktribune.com

USA — Kevin Sedivec, a range science specialist, says ranchers whose pastures were destroyed early this month in a runaway prescribed fire set by the Forest Service will be affected for at least two years.

He also predicts it will be at least a decade before there’ll be another prescribed fire anywhere on the grasslands in this region.

“The grazing associations are afraid of fire and any view there was of the positive effect, is now a tenfold negative effect,” he said.

The Forest Service was conducting a small prescribed fire on the Grand River National Grasslands south of the border between Lemmon, S.D., and Hettinger, when warm wind pushed the fire south across 14,000 acres.

Sedivec, a range professor at North Dakota State University, is a go-to source for range issues.

Just two months ago, he presented the results of a five-year study of 17 prescribed fires titled, “Impacts of Prescribed Burning on Native Ranges of Western North Dakota,” to a meeting of the Forest Service and the eight grazing associations that manage permits on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands.

At the meeting was the Grand River Grazing Association, whose members sustained severe damage from what started as a prescribed fire.

Sedivec said the study found that fire on native grass caused the loss of a solid 30 percent of new grass growth the first year and

15 percent the second year.

“We didn’t see a negative effect on the grass species, but it did affect grass production for two years after the fire,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of benefit for prescribed fire on native range.”

Tim Smith, who heads the Grand River Grazing Association, said all his directors were opposed to the April 3 fire: “It was too dry and too risky. They (Forest Service) rolled the dice.”

And, Smith said, all the associations spoke against prescribed burns at that meeting with Sedivec and the Forest Service.

Keith Winter, president of the McKenzie County Grazing Association headquartered in Watford City, said his association is opposed to prescribed burns on the grasslands and stands in opposition with the other grazing associations.

“Fire is not beneficial. We’d like the Forest Service to take a hard look at the benefit of prescribed burns and call off the fire program,” Winter said.

The Forest Service did cancel prescribed burns planned for later this spring on Grand River National Grasslands.

Three of those would have been part of Sedivec’s ongoing study to see if fire reduces Kentucky blue grass in native grass stands. “They put the kibosh on those,” he said.

Now that there’s been an accidental fire, Sedivec said he’ll take advantage of the opportunity to compare pre-burn data to what happens to the grass now.

He said prescribed burns, like the one on Grand River, should have a purpose. In that case, the agency was trying to burn down crested wheat grass to improve chances for native species. He said burns can be useful for controlling invasive and exotic grasses, like Kentucky blue.

“They did a test burn and it looked good. They didn’t expect the wind. It’s just too bad. It’ll affect any fires that people want to do for a long time,” he said.

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