NRCS, SDSU Extension, and partners offer prescribed fire workshops for landowners

Mar 8, 2013
by WLJ

South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other area conservation organizations involved in the Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership will be offering a series of free workshops geared at training and educating NRCS staff and landowners on the basics of fire planning and fire plan writing.

Participation in these free one-day workshops will give producers and NRCS staff the foundation to develop NRCS and Farm Service Agency (FSA) compliant prescribed fire plans for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other USDA conservation program land.

Workshops will be offered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the following dates and locations: March 14 - Sisseton; March 21 - Leola; March 28 - Huron; April 4 - Watertown. Interested individuals are required to register by contacting Jan at the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Watertown at605/882- 5140, at which time they will be asked to indicate the location they prefer to attend.

“SDSU Extension’s role in fire education is developing,” said Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension range field specialist and acting chair for the The Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership.

Bauman explains that the partnership has worked to provide fire guidance and fire implementation to private producers in the northeastern portion of the state.

Although the partnership, which is comprised of federal, state, and local conservation agencies and organizations, has occasionally assisted in CRP burns, the primary focus of the group is to provide fire support on native pastures.

“The reality is that we are small and can only perform about 20 to 30 burns in any given year,” Bauman said. “Mid-contract CRP burning is a real need, and we are confident that this training will improve the ability of our producers to plan for and conduct safe and effective burns on their properties.”

The training will focus primarily on planning and preparations for very safe burns where there is little chance of fire escape beyond the confines of the targeted field.

“Folks should not expect to become experts in a day, but they will gain some very valuable information and coaching on developing a safe fire plan for their property,” he said.

Stan Boltz, state range management specialist for NRCS, and general coordinator for NRCS’s prescribed fire management policies, adds that when used correctly, fire can be a great tool for landowners.

“Fire can be a great tool for our producers to achieve their mid-term management goals for their conservation program lands,” Boltz said.

FSA requires that landowners develop a burn plan before fire can be utilized on CRP.

“We’ve been working behind the scenes for years to develop a safe and effective training workshop that can allow our staff and the producers they work with to gain some practical experience in burn plan writing.

It’s our hope that our staff and the landowners can work together to develop safe and effective burn plans for CRP,” Boltz said.

Dale Johnson, a Naples area landowner and owner of Dakota Hunting Adventures, enrolled some property in the CRP program a few years ago. He utilizes fire to help manage this grassland.

“We took advantage of the opportunity to hay portions of the fields that were in greatest need of disturbance, but we realized that a controlled burn would offer the greatest benefit,” Johnson said.

“Most landowners may not understand the critical implications of weather, topography, humidity, and letting the neighbors know what they plan to do. Also, the ability to work with our NRCS staff to complete a burn plan that meets FSA requirements will remove a stumbling block to the process of utilizing controlled burning on my CRP land,” Johnson said.

“This is good news,” said Matt Morlock of Pheasants Forever. “We’ve been working on this program a long time. We know the benefits of fire, and we know the biology of the birds and other animals that utilize the grass for spring nesting and cover.”

He adds that there is some real merit to the rules being as they are to not allow any burning after May 15 on CRP, unless special permission is granted.

“It’s easy to be concerned about the birds, but without good stand establishment, we’ll never raise as many birds as we should. These fires are necessary to ensure that we have the best nesting and broad rearing areas possible for the long-term benefit of the pheasants, ducks, and other users of our CRP stands,” Morlock said.

For more information or to register, call the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Watertown at 605/882- 5140.

Locations for the remaining workshops:

Sisseton: March 14 at the 4-H Building. On Hwy 10, go to west edge of Sisseton. Turn south on BIA Hwy 700, about 1/8 of a mile south on the west side of the road will be the 4-H building (green).

Leola: March 21 at the Nature Conservancy Ordway Prairie ranch. From Leola, go west on Hwy 10 approximately 10 miles. Ranch headquarters, visitor center, and sign are on the south side of the road. Bring a lunch.

Huron: March 28 at the Federal Building, downtown Huron. 2 blocks East of Hwy 37 on 4th Street. Four-story brick building. Free parking south of the Federal Building. Enter front doors and take elevator to 3rd floor. Rm 300.

Watertown: April 4 at the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Classroom A. 1910 West Kemp Avenue. Go West on Hwy 212 west of town. Turn north on Co. Rd14A at the Ramkota Event Center. Go north to W Kemp Ave. East on W Kemp about 2 blocks. — WLJ