By Ang Gilchrist
Shortly after the containment of the Wellnitz Fire, UNL Extention Educator, Cindy Tusler, coordinated a tour of the burn area to familiarize area county officials and decision makers with the impact of the wild fire and suppression activities on ecological range sites throughout the county.
Those participating in the tour included representatives from the Sheridan County Commissioners, Sheridan County Extention, Sheridan County Weed Superintendent, Upper Niobrara White NRD, Nebraska Forest Service, Security 1st Bank of Hay Springs/Rushville, Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office, USDA: FSA, NRCS, FSA and the Sheridan County Journal Star. The Nebraska Game and Parks and other Sheridan County banks were invited, but unable to attend.
Several key recovery factors were discussed, including:
*Recovery begins at the local level and the needs cannot be fully recognized without proper assessment.
*Land owners should not assume permanent damage to vegetation based on the fire alone. Burn damage progresses in color from brown to black to gray/white being the hottest or most damaged, however plant bases and roots may have contained enough moisture for the plant to survive.
*Foraging animals above and below ground have the potential to cause more damage.
*Deferred grazing until 2014 will be a key factor in the recovery of pastures. Putting livestock back on the burned pastures any sooner may cause permanent damage. However, selective grazing may benefit some areas when it comes to controlling vegetative growth in some areas.
*Evergreens with less than 50% heat discoloration may have the potential to recover and shouldn’t be cut down immediately. Those trees with over 50% damage should be considered for removal, as they will be added fuel in the event of another wildfire. Contact a local expert for help in decision making with these trees.
*Heat stressed trees may be at a higher risk for damage from the IPS beetles, however the pine beetle is not a threat in our immediate area.
*Erosion is a concern, especially in those areas where ground vegetation has burned on steep terrains.
*Weedy plant growth is to be expected. Ranchers should be aware of noxious weeds during the recovery period.
*Selective tree thinning within the burn area can limit damage potential, maintain forested areas, and reduce fuels in the event of new fires.
*Some access roads and boundaries should be maintained to allow future fire fighting access and fire breaks.
*Tractor-disced fire lines can be expected to return to normal without any further action needed. Fire lines created by a cat or blade may take a little work to rehabilitate.
*Becoming familiar with “Firewise” and taking steps in fire prevention can assist in protecting structures from future wildfires. (http://firewise.org/)
Security 1st representative, Rick Burleigh, said that Sheridan County has been added to the list of counties eligible to receive funds through the Chadron Community Foundation. This foundation is a 501(c) developed in 2006 to accept in-kind donations such as feed, wire, water tanks, fence posts, and other livestock materials. Area ranchers in need of help or those wishing to donate materials are asked to contact any area bank for more information.
An informational meeting discussing disaster assistance through the USDA Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be held this Thursday, September 20 at 4:30 p.m. at the Extention Church north of Rushville. Please RSVP to the Extention Office at (308)327-2312 if you plan to attend this meeting.
By Ang Gilchrist