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Effects of Fire in the Northern Great Plains

JPG-Photo of a prairie fire.

by
Kenneth F. Higgins1, Arnold D. Kruse2, and James L. Piehl3


Fire has been used inconsistently to manage native and tame grasslands in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) of the north-central U.S. and south-central Canada, particularly the grasslands found in prairies, plains, agricultural land retirement programs, and moist soil sites.

This has happened for three primary reasons: (1) the reduction of American Indian use of fire after 1875, (2) fire suppression and land use changes that put increasingly more acres under annual tillage since about the same time, and (3) a growing resistance to the use of fire since about 1940, largely due to media overemphasis of its harmful effects (e.g., "Bambi" and "Smokey the Bear").

Little can be done to change the first two factors but there is ample opportunity to change human attitudes about fire.

Attitudes change when the knowledge (or lack of it) changes. We believe that people have been reluctant to include fire in resource management programs in the NGP because of a lack of adequate information about the effects of fire on the soils, plants, and animals in the region.

This document provides information concerning fire effects on the grassland biome of the NGP, with special emphasis on the use of fire for wildlife management. In several instances we have drawn from published literature outside the geographic region, but only to provide a more complete reference for readers and decision makers.

In most instances, we only state or abstract the published findings of others without interpretation, either pro or con. Readers can fit the information into their specific circumstances.

English and scientific names are from Flora of the Great Plains by the Great Plains Flora Association and from the Checklist of vertebrates of the United States, the U.S. territories, and Canada by R.C. Banks, R.W. McDiarmid, and A.L. Gardner.


This resource is based on the following source (Northern Prairie Publication 0740):
Higgins, Kenneth F., Arnold D. Kruse, and James L. Piehl.  1989.  Effects 
     of fire in the Northern Great Plains.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
     and Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota State University, 
     Brookings, South Dakota.  Extension Circular 761. 47 pp.

This resource should be cited as:

Higgins, Kenneth F., Arnold D. Kruse, and James L. Piehl.  1989.  Effects 
     of fire in the Northern Great Plains.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
     and Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota State University, 
     Brookings, South Dakota.  Extension Circular 761.  Jamestown, ND: 
     Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.  
     http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/habitat/fire/index.htm 
     (Version 16MAY2000).

Table of Contents


1 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Dakota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, South Dakota State University, Box 2206, Brookings, South Dakota 57007
2 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Box 2096, Jamestown, North Dakota 58402
3 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, R.R. 1, Box 76, Fergus Falls, Minnesota 56337
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