23 May 2016

Prescribed Burns at Fort Niobrara NWR

Prescribed burns to benefit plants and animals of wild lands habitat at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge ended in early May, after the first set fire on March 28th.

There were four burns in 2016 comprising about 1572 acres, said Steven A. Hicks, the project leader of the Fort Niobrara/Valentine NWR complex.

“The burns are conducted as a habitat management tool,” Hicks said. Fire is used to “control invasive eastern red cedar trees and reinvigorate many fire adapted grassland plant species,” Hicks said. Other management objectives for refuge lands are met through the use of prescribed burns.

Fire as a controlled management tool is most prevalent on the upland grassland areas of the refuge, east of Valentine.

An occasional burn is done to “benefit fire tolerant/dependent tree species” in the Niobrara River valley, especially the paper bark birch (Betula papyrifera), Hicks said. These burns extend from the upland grasslands along the valley ridge, and down to the Niobrara river.

One woodland burn in 2016 extended from approximately the Buffalo Bridge Wilderness access trail, downstream to the Tyler Falls area, and south to the county road, Hicks said. A valley area burned in 2015 was along the river from Tyler Falls and eastward about one mile.

Benefits to wildbirds was prominent after an April burn. Many Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) were especially noted to forage at freshly burned grassland during late April, Hicks said.

Prescribed burns were done this season by Fish and Wildlife Service staff from the refuge complex and from elsewhere in Nebraska and surrounding states, Hicks said. Partners for the spring 2016 burns included the U.S. Forest Service from Fort Pierre National Grassland in South Dakota and Bessey Ranger District by Halsey, the National Park Service from Valentine and U.S. Bureau of Land Management from Utah.

“Partnering on these burns help us combine resources to efficiently complete a burn that we might not be able to do alone." Hicks said. "We also get to know each other which helps us work better together in the event of a wildfire."

“We also partnered again this spring with The Nature Conservancy in an annual training exchange to accomplish prescribed burns,” Hicks said.