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Prescribed Burning Guidelines
in the Northern Great Plains


Kenneth F. Higgins
Arnold D. Kruse
James L. Piehl

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The use of fire to manage grasslands for wildlife is a relatively new management option for resource managers in the Northern Great Plains (NGP). Nearly all of the burning during the past 20-25 years has been conducted without the aid of specific guidelines for the region. This state-of-the-art set of recommendations was compiled because of this void.

Records of 902 grassland fires (primarily on U.S. Fish and Wildlife lands), personal experiences, and synopses of other published fire research were used in developing the guidelines in this manual.

Fifty-two percent of the 902 fires were in native prairie grasslands with lesser amounts in tame and native grass plantings, wetlands, and woodlands.

Prescription grassland fires averaged 31 ha (77 acres) per burn. The personnel needed to safely conduct a grassland fire depended on the size of the burn, the kind of firebreaks, available equipment, and weather conditions. Costs and hours of effort to conduct fires were inversely related to burn area size. Cost ratios are extremely high for fires of less than 4 ha (10 acres). They are essentially the same for burns of 16 to 113 ha (40 to 280 acres).

The two primary reasons for burning grasslands are wildlife habitat improvement and native prairie restoration. Fire use steadily increased between 1965 and 1984, but the greatest increase occurred following workshop instruction in 1978.

These guidelines present a set of reasons, criteria, techniques, and examples of simple prescriptions which aid in the planning and execution of a safe and effective prescribed burning program for wildlife enhancement in grassland areas of the NGP.

This resource is based on the following source (Northern Prairie Publication 0732):
Higgins, Kenneth F., Arnold D. Kruse and James L. Piehl.  1989.  Prescribed burning 
     guidelines in the Northern Great Plains.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
     Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota State University, U.S. 
     Department of Agriculture EC 760.  36 pp.  
This resource should be cited as:
Higgins, Kenneth F., Arnold D. Kruse and James L. Piehl.  1989.  Prescribed burning 
     guidelines in the Northern Great Plains.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
     Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota State University, U.S. 
     Department of Agriculture EC 760.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife 
     Research Center Online. (Version 16JUL97).


DISCLAIMER: Several older photographs used in this publication show burn crews without appropriate personal protective equipment. Current Department of Interior (DOI) requirements include Nomex shirts and pants, leather gloves and boots, hardhat, goggles, and fire shelter. Requirements may be found in the DOI Departmental Manual, chapter 910, DM 1; in the USFWS Service Refuge Manual, chapter 6RM 7.8c; in the USFWS Service Manual, part 241 FW 7.1; or in the USFWS Fire Management Preparedness and Planning Handbook, FWS 621 section 1.5.3.

Area covered by guidelines
Fire in historical perspective
Present-day burning
Is fire a choice?

Reasons for grassland burning

Methods of spreading fire in grasslands
Kinds of fires
Basic patterns of burning grasslands
Basic way to conduct a burn

Confining fire
Bare ground or mineral soil firebreaks
Fire containment lines
Chemical retardants
Foam retardants
Mowing and haying
Flappers, backpacks, shovels, rakes
Burned firebreaks

Smoke management

Fire setting and confinement equipment

Weather conditions
Important weather variables
Relative humidity
Atmospheric stability
Weather information sources

State-of-the-art fire prescriptions
Low-risk prescription
Partial fuel consumption prescriptions
Complete fuel consumption prescriptions
High-risk prescriptions
Climate conditions on recent fires
General prescriptions

Permit to burn
Burn site constraints
Wilderness fires

Training fire crew members
Classroom and field instruction
Fire management experience

Physical fitness standard
Safety clothing
Life-threatening situations
Equipment purchase and repair
Equipment check and testing
Last-minute instructions

Post-burn monitoring, mop-up, cleanup
Perimeter monitoring
Site cleanup

Evaluation of fire effects on the environment
Evaluation of a grassland burn
Adequacy of plans and preparations
Adequacy of the prescription on habitat manipulation

Literature cited

Appendix A -- An extensive fire plan
Appendix B -- A brief fire plan for a low risk site
Appendix C -- A brief fire plan for a site that is part of a larger comprehensive burn plan
Appendix D -- A burn site evaluation form
Appendix E -- Red flag situations
Appendix F -- Fire situations that shout "watch out"
Appendix G -- Examples of fuel and fire retardant mixtures
Appendix H -- List of figures

Downloading Instructions -- Instructions on downloading and extracting files from this site.
Download icon (1.8M) -- Prescribed Burning Guidelines in the Northern Great Plains Installation: Extract all files and open index.htm in a web browser.

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