Prescribed burns leave North and South Dakota ranchers - KOTA Territory News

Prescribed burns leave North and South Dakota ranchers perplexed

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Fire personnel in the KOTA Territory have been preparing for this year's fire season for months.

One way to mitigate fire fuel is by the use of prescribed burns.

A recent 10,800 acre grassland fire in Hettinger and Perkins County has land owners wondering if that's the right thing to do.

"I never was for it," said ranch owner Helen Meink. "I think our country is too, too dry."

Babete Anderson of the United States Forest Service says frustrations from ranchers and property owners were expressed at a public meeting in Hettinger yesterday.

Anderson says forest service workers are trying to remedy some of the damage. Workers are already building a fence for a rancher who lost 95 percent of his land.

Each year, the U.S. Forest Service uses prescribed burns for more than fuel reduction and resource benefit.

"Out here we'll burn for wildlife benefit, for vegetation manipulation, try to restore the prairies  kind of back to the native grasses," said Assistant Zone Fire Management Officer, Oscar Knudtson. "Fire is a tool we can use to accomplish that."

Many ranchers and land owners claim they advised fire crews not to do a control burn last week.

Fire officials say there is an extensive decision making process before any ground is lit.

"We don't just go out and light fires 'willy nilly.' There's a plan we follow with certain parameters as far as temperature, wind, a relative humidity," said Knudtson, "The size of the unit, you know how we're going to hold it, how we're going to ignite it, safety plan, medical plan. There's a lot."

The U.S. Forest Service says it intends to compensate ranchers and land owners who were effected by the Pautre Fire, including damage to fences, hay bales, and anything else lost.

"How do you put a dollar sign on stuff like that?" said Meink. "It was supposed to be controlled burning. I thought it was very reckless."

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