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Bearlodge Ranger District Seeking Public Comments On South Slope Winter Burning Project

The Forest Service is proposing to burn up to 8,382 acres on the Bearlodge Ranger District, Black Hills National Forest. The purpose of the project is to reduce accumulations of grass, brush, fallen trees, and other hazardous fuels to provide fire managers with areas in which to manage future wildland fires safely and effectively.

Areas proposed for burning are scattered across the Bearlodge District in six groups. The 140 individual burn units range in size from 9 to 300 acres.

Burning would occur in winter, on south-facing slopes, when snow has melted off these hillsides but still covers adjacent areas. Burning under these conditions keeps the fire from spreading beyond the intended area and reduces or eliminates the need to construct control lines. Burning would occur as conditions allow. On average, burning is expected to occur on an estimated 500 acres annually.

Black Hills National Forest requires extensive preparation and contingency planning for prescribed burning. Fire managers prepare a Burn Plan for each prescribed burn and consider weather, fuel moisture, and many other factors in determining whether a burn can safely occur on a given day. Parties notified prior to a burn include the county Sheriff and dispatch, Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center, local residents and landowners, local media outlets, and the National Weather Service. Qualified personnel conduct the burn and contingency resources are available. Following the burn, mop-up and patrol occur until the fire is completely extinguished.

South-facing slopes are at elevated risk for fire ignition and spread. They receive more sunlight per day than other aspects and as a result are hotter and drier. Fine fuels cure earlier in the year and are primed for ignition. If a fire ignites, upslope winds and the smoke column can further heat and dry fuels, potentially causing fire to rapidly move uphill. Soils are often shallow and rocky, which can extend the time that heat from a fire is near tree roots and increase likelihood of tree mortality.

These challenges make wildfire suppression difficult and increase risk to firefighters. Targeting these critical areas in winter allows reduction of fuel loading and accomplishment of other objectives under favorable conditions with an overall goal of reducing fire intensity and creating a safer environment to fight fire in the future. Burning in winter also protects tree roots and limits mortality.

Prescribed fire maintains diverse flora and improves habitat for big game and many other wildlife species. It also prepares sites for natural tree regeneration, increases browse productivity, and rejuvenates forage.

The South Slope Winter Burning project is designed to contribute to the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy’s goals to development of landscapes, regardless of ownership, that are resilient to fire, insect, disease, invasive species, and climate change disturbances, in accordance with management objectives.

The Forest Service values public participation. Communications from the public regarding this project, including commenters’ names and contact information, will become part of the public record. Comments should be submitted within 30 days after publication of the legal notice of opportunity to comment in the Rapid City Journal. The notice will be published on or about April 25, 2024. Comments can be made using the project website by CLICKING HERE or through the U.S. Mail: Attn: South Slope Winter Burn Project, Bearlodge Ranger District, P.O. Box 680 / 101 S. 21st St. Sundance, WY 82729.

For questions on the proposed project, please contact Patrick Champa, Bearlodge District Ranger, or Elizabeth Krueger, Bearlodge Ranger District resource planner, at (307) 283-1361, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., mountain daylight time.

Following this public comment period, the Forest will assess the need for modification of the proposal and development of potential alternatives. An interdisciplinary team of resource specialists will analyze effects of the proposed action and any alternatives on resources such as water, wildlife, cultural resources, and recreation. Effects will be disclosed in an environmental assessment and, if applicable, a finding of no significant impact. The environmental assessment and draft decision are expected to be available in fall 2024.


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