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Prescribed Burning Guidelines
in the Northern Great Plains

Evaluation of fire effects on the environment

Evaluations (Appendix D) should be coordinated with objectives yet be concise, informative, and easy to do. Evaluations will become easier in the future because of the knowledge and experience gained with each fire.

Evaluation of a grassland burn

Fire evaluation begins at preburn planning. The evaluation procedures should be made relative to fire effects on environmental variables and to any problems relative to fire behavior, burning patterns, fire control, personal safety, or adequacy of manpower and equipment.

Post-burn evaluations are the key to better future fire prescriptions.

Adequacy of plans and preparations

An evaluation of the preburn, burn, and post-burn operations should take place soon after the burn is complete and should answer:

  1. Were there any accidents?
  2. Were there any fire control problems (escapes or near escapes)?
  3. Were there any smoke or air pollution problems?
  4. Was the burning pattern correct?
  5. Was the burn practical, considering the constraints and sensitive issues or areas?
  6. Were there any unexpected detrimental fire effects on the soil, water, vegetation, or wildlife?
  7. Was there any adverse postburn publicity or reactions?
  8. Were the primary objectives met?
  9. Should this grassland unit receive consideration for future fire management, or should alternate land use practices be used?
  10. What would you do differently the next time this area is burned?

Adequacy of the prescription on habitat manipulation

An evaluation of fire effects on the vegetation should be done in two or more steps.

Step 1 evaluations are usually made soon after the completion of the burn and include delineation of the burn unit on a map or aerial photo, description of the burn on the fuel load, an explanation of problems or successes, and directions for future action on successive burns of the same unit. Example questions for step 1 evaluations are:

  1. Was the proper habitat manipulation (e.g. partial burn) achieved under the present fire prescription?
  2. Were target exclusion areas left unburned?
  3. How were woody species affected by the fire (leaves wilted, bark burst open, totally consumed, roots burned underground, etc)?
  4. Did the fire create excessive soil exposure? It may not be possible to determine this until after a moderate amount of rain (0.5 inch) has settled the ash cover.
Step 2 evaluations are usually made at least 30 days or more after a fire and periodically during several post-burn years. Example questions for step 2 evaluations are:

  1. Did the burn increase the biological productivity of the area (e.g. increased nesting success, increased plant species diversity)?
  2. Did the burn enhance target plant species numbers or coverage?
  3. What percentages of nuisance or noxious plants were killed or reduced by the burn?
  4. Was the composition of the plant and animal communities altered by the fire? If so, how much?
  5. For how many years after the fire were livestock gains still noticeable?
  6. How many post-burn years of vegetative regrowth were necessary to bring litter accumulations back to the preburn status or condition?
A list like this could be very extensive, but for your records the primary evaluation should be kept in line with your objectives, preburn planning, and your prescription. It should be brief and yet descriptive.

Step 2 evaluations may be as simple as comparing a series of post-burn pictures of photo stations or as complex as evaluating waterfowl or game bird nesting success. Your post-burn evaluations are largely dictated by your preburn plans. Both are necessary for a successful, continuing burning program.

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