Burn baby burn
Prescribed burn southof Gothenburg involves state, federal, local agencies.
A chance to see effective prescribed burn practices brought about 25 firefighters from six states plus local landowners and volunteers to Gothenburg the end of March.
The group gathered southwest of town on land owned by Jerry Kranau where about 2,700 acres were burned.
Jeremy Bailey, a fire training and networks coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, said the area—as well as around Curtis and Broken Bow—was chosen because private landowners and volunteer fire departments there are good role models when it comes to prescribed burning.
“We’re trying to take people places where effective management is demonstrated and export it to other places,” said Bailey who works out of Salt Lake City, UT.
Bailey said both local landowners and The Nature Conservancy want to take care of the land—landowners for economic reasons and conservationists to preserve the grasslands of the Great Plains.
Landowners want to rid their pastures of eastern red cedar trees which are native to Nebraska and used to exist in normal niches, he said.
However in the last 150 years, Bailey said roads and fences have kept livestock grazing in the same places.
Livestock eat down grass, he said, which lessens the chance for fire compared to the bison-roaming days when grassland grew uninhibited and fire kept red cedars in check.
Without fire, Bailey said cedars can take over a pasture in 40 years.
“Fire is helpful for grass germination and diversification,” he explained. “Grassland systems on the prairie need regular fire to keep them healthy.”
That’s why members of the Loess Canyons Rangeland Alliance—in existence for 10 years—and the newer East Loess Canyon Rangeland Alliance have organized and been trained to do prescribed burns.
Landowners in the 10-year-old Loess Canyons Rangeland Alliance, Bailey said, are one of the leading organizations in the country in professionalism and organization in doing prescribed burns.
“One of the challenges in doing a prescribed burn is putting a burn or control line,” he said, noting that alliance members cooperate with each other.
Often property lines are not the best borders, Bailey said, noting that two roads or a creek bed and road make better natural barriers when burning.
Bailey said the alliance brings in all of its landowner members with their knowledge and equipment and volunteer fire departments to burn several properties in a day.
“It’s safer and more productive and burning acres on a large scale—1,000 to 2,000—really makes a difference,” he said.
On Kranau’s land, Bailey said firefighters met the mortality rate for cedars they wanted—75% of eastern red cedars five foot tall or less.
Although landowners and members of local fire departments seem to work together, it’s often not as common with agencies on federal and state land.
Bailey described the prescribed burn south of Gothenburg as “an innovative approach” to get fire practitionersfrom all parts of the discipline to work together.
He noted that some fire fighters at the burn were working for certification under established standards for wild land fire management.
Fifteen different organizations sent people for fire practice and experience so they could fight fires in national forests and parks.
Bailey said the out-of-towners spent about six days in and around Gothenburg where they burned 2,280 acres in the area before moving on to burn 2,200 acres near Broken Bow.
“We worked around the weather—rain and snow—but the last day (at Kranau’s) it was 71 degrees,” he said.
Syd Kite of Gothenburg, a member of the Loess Canyon Rangeland and East Loess Canyon Alliances said they can’t burn if conditions aren’t right.
For example, he said wind should generally not be more than 5 to 18 mph. Relative humidity should be between 20% to 40%.
Burn plans must be submitted for approval by Feb. 14 of each year and there’s usually a two-week window when prescribed burns can usually occur.
Kite, who’s been involved in several burns, likened them to a branding.
“All the neighbors come in and it takes a lot of work and manpower,” he said.
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