The National Park Service plans to implement prescribed fire projects in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit starting on September 14. Prescribed fires are those started by park managers under specific weather and fuel conditions for a particular purpose. Air temperature, humidity, fuel load and moisture, and wind speed and direction are some of the many factors considered in determining whether conditions are favorable to start a burn.
“We have been waiting for the right conditions to conduct these prescribed fires,” said Superintendent Valerie Naylor. “Fire is a natural process that contributes to the maintenance and health of prairie ecosystems within the park. National Park Service policy stresses managing fire for resource benefits rather than merely suppressing it.”
Two separate areas are expected to be burned, totaling approximately 1,200 to 2,200 acres. One burn area is near the Longhorn Flats Pullout and the other is west of River Bend Overlook, in the park’s Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness Area between the Little Missouri River and the scenic tour road. The primary objective of the burns is to restore fire to parts of the landscape that have historically been subject to natural, periodic wildfire. The topography includes numerous clay buttes, moist drainages, and areas of bare ground which provide natural firebreaks. These help firefighters contain the fire to desired areas and avoid impacts to fire sensitive vegetation and culturally important sites. The burn prescription, fire behavior, and site conditions will result in a only fraction of the area actually being burned. This mosaic of burned and unburned areas is an outcome expected in a naturally occurring fire.
Research has shown that native grassland diversity and forage quality deteriorate when fire is excluded from natural fire dependent systems for extended periods of time. Fires of appropriate intensity transform dead plant material into soil nutrients and increase the amount of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms, encouraging plant and animal diversity across the landscape. The variety and health of plants and animals found at Theodore Roosevelt National Park is partially the result of past fire activity.
Local fire departments and law enforcement agencies have been notified and signs will be placed along the road and at park visitor centers to notify the public. National Park Service personnel will be assisted by other federal land management agencies and cooperating organizations to safely carry out the prescribed burns.
Information will be available on the park’s website at www.nps.gov/thro. In addition, an excellent source of fire information specific to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Northern Great Plains can be found at www.nps.gov/ngpfire/thro.htm.