WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, S.D. – Planning is underway to burn 676 acres of land surrounding the park’s developed area this fall and 669 acres adjacent to the Elk Mountain Campground next spring. The fall burn could occur as early as the week of October 1st.
“We’d like to invite the public to an open house concerning this burn to be held on Wednesday, September 26, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wind Cave National Park Visitor Center,” said park superintendent Vidal Dávila. “While there will be no formal presentation, staff will be available to answer questions about this project.”
The project area includes dense and open ponderosa pine forest with a grass understory. This is a wildland urban interface area involving structures in the park’s headquarters area and a nearby private residence. Ignition will take place through the utilization of ground resources, and the primary carrier of fire will be grass.
Dávila continued, “The primary objectives of this burn are to reduce fuel loading in the ponderosa pine forest and to decrease encroachment of young ponderosa pine onto the prairie, improving the flow of water into the cave. Prescribed burns help decrease the intensities of wildfires which allows firefighters to better protect homes and structures.”
Assisting with the burn will be National Park Service firefighters with support from other interagency resources.
During the day of the burn, smoke from the fire may be heavy at times along Highway 385 and visible from the surrounding region. The highway might be closed intermittently for safety reasons. Unless there is significant precipitation, smoke might be seen in the area for several days following the burn.
The Prairie Vista Trail behind the visitor center will be closed during fire operations and possibility for the 2 weeks following the burn. Other impacts to Park operations are expected but efforts will be made to minimize visitor impacts.
This fire represents a continuation of the park’s prescribed fire program which began in 1972. Segments of the park are burned, under favorable conditions, to simulate natural fires. Prescribed fires maintain the balance between forest and prairie, removes the build-up of dead fuels which reduces the chance of a catastrophic wildfire, and rejuvenates the native prairie grasses.
Prescribed fires are carefully conducted under identified and approved prescription conditions. Factors such as humidity, fuel moisture, wind speed and direction, and short and long-range weather patterns are all considered in establishing the acceptable conditions for conducting a prescribed fire. If the prescribed set of conditions cannot be met on a specific day, the planned fire is postponed.