1,700-Acre Prescribed Fire Planned on the Pine Ridge


Managers of public lands in the Pine Ridge are planning to conduct prescribed fires in the region, including one that may be the region’s biggest ever.

Conditions pending, the Pine Ridge Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will collaborate to conduct a burn of an estimated 1,700 acres about 10 miles south of Chadron by the end of March. The area includes land between U.S. Highway 385 and Deadhorse Road, including the western portion of Chadron Creek Wildlife Management Area, three Forest Service pastures and some private land.

“Even with this being the largest known prescribed fire on the Pine Ridge, the burn is broken into several smaller sections with defendable fire lines. This will allow fire managers to stop and hold it in the event of changing conditions on the ground,” said U.S. Forest Service Pine Ridge District Ranger Tim Buskirk.

Should there be an unforeseen weather event, fire managers have safeguards in place. Fire personnel will be on scene, patrolling and observing the burn unit until no smoke is visible. These patrols become more frequent if conditions change unfavorably.  

Officials note that wildfire was an important part of Great Plains ecology before Euro-American settlement and that suppression since then has been understandable but problematic. Low-intensity prescribed fires help remedy the situation.

The benefits include the incineration of underbrush and other material that could make a wildfire extremely hazardous and destructive. It also will combat the invasion of undesirable plant species while enhancing vegetation for wildlife habitat and grazing. Fire can help set back dominating non-native cool-season grasses such as smooth and downy brome, for instance, and promote the growth of other plants that provide better nesting, loafing and brood-rearing cover. The pending fire also will reduce the countless dead pines in the area from the 2012 wildfires that have hindered access for noxious weed control and recreation.

Before ignition, prescribed fires must meet strict requirements for weather conditions and forecasts, fuel moisture, smoke dispersal and staffing.

If conditions allow, land managers will tackle more than a half-dozen other smaller prescribed fires this spring. A burn of about 85 acres occurred at Chadron Creek Ranch WMA on March 19. Other Game and Parks properties include Bordeaux, Ponderosa and Peterson wildlife management areas. The Forest Service is considering fires at two other locations on its properties — one about 5 miles south of Chadron and the other 7 miles southeast of the city, known as the Slicker and Collins allotments.

More information may be obtained by contacting the field office at Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area near Crawford or the Pine Ridge Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service in Chadron.