Its early march in South Dakota and winter hasn’t loosened its grip as this article is being written. We are used to working around the weather, but as we flip the calendar to March, we Fire in South Dakota: An introduction are forced to start planning for spring activities, regardless of spring’s travel plans. Along with calving and planting for many; at least for some spring planning also includes the use of fire.

SDSU Extension has been working over the past year toward improved fire education and outreach. We’ve been gathering information on the role of fire in South Dakota: past, present, and future. We understand and appreciate the differences and complexities of our state’s regions and its peoples. South Dakota’s land and the resources it harbors are much greater than the sum of its parts, and collectively the challenges of fire management in our state’s habitats are highly variable. As a result, a historic and natural tool like fire can be lauded as a hero and a villain.

The fire hero has the potential to release lower Missouri River ranches from the clutch of encroaching cedar and juniper trees, invigorate grass growth in an eastern pasture, and reduce fuel loads in the Black Hills. It has the ability to rejuvenate a neglected pasture in the Summit Hills to a lush carpet of grasses and flowering plants. As much as the fire hero is heralded, the fire villain is despised....maybe even more so. Unplanned wildfires or well intentioned prescribed fires gone awry can lead to bewilderment, confusion, and loss resulting in unsatisfactory answers that often create bitterness and disdain for such a powerful tool.

Any tool with the potential to cause significant impacts, both positively and negatively, deserves to be treated with respect and the outreach efforts of SDSU Extension reflect that philosophy. As our capacity grows, we will continue to work with partners and landowners to provide fire training and education in workshops and classrooms. Over the next several months we will also continue this iGrow article series on fire, dissecting various fire issues and providing technical information intended to advance the knowledge and understanding of fire, not only as a historic force that shaped our landscapes, but as a modern tool that can be applied judiciously and safely for the benefit of people and resources.

Not all fire is created equal, not all fire is bad, and not all fire is good. We have lost homes and property in South Dakota to fires of various origins. Those memories can be real, painful, and persistent. However, the fire tool continues to have relevance, and through this series we hope to cover a suite of topics demonstrating that well planned, well executed, and well communicated fire remains a viable option for land-use needs that have few, if any, alternatives.

Practical consideration of fire starts with education. It is in that spirit we are announcing the latest effort related to fire planning and education. SDSU Extension along with SD NRCS, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, and other partners involved in the Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership will be hosting a series of Landowner and Agency CRP/Grassland Fire Planning workshops in March of 2014. Anyone considering fire use owes it to themselves and their neighbors to become educated, and we are here to help.

The 2014 workshops will be held in:

  • Winner on March 25th at the SDSU Regional Extension Center
  • Rapid City on March 26th at the SDSU West River Ag Center
  • Lemmon on March 27th at the Lemmon Fire Department

Overview

Workshops will consist of 1-day classroom instruction led by trained prescribed fire professionals within the NRCS, SDSU Extension, Pheasants Forever, and other organizations. All classes begin at 8:30 am with on-site registration and will adjourn at 5 pm with a one hour lunch break at noon. Lunch will not be provided at the workshops.

We will focus on instructing landowners, NRCS staff, and agency personnel on the methods of planning for and conducting prescribed fires on CRP and grasslands in general. Topics will include firebreak development, grassland ecology, fire planning, resources and tools, weather, safety, and communications.

Registration

The workshops are free, and walk-in registration will be held on site at 8:30 each morning. However, participants are encouraged to pre-register if they know they are planning to attend. For more information or to pre-register, please call the SDSU Regional Extension Center in Watertown (Bauman’s office) at 605.882.5140.

Additional Discussion

Finally, we would like to invite the public into this conversation. If you have a fire topic that you would like to see covered in this series or would like more information on fire use for a specific target, please contact Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist.