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Forest Service to stop slash pile burning

Published: Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Wildland fire fighters are making some very tough calls this week, opting for a more conservative approach to prescribed fire and pile burning.
Black Hills National Forest fire staff officer Todd Pechota said his wildfire crews are down from 16 fire engines to 14 engines Forest-wide. The engines left in service will be fully staffed later than usual, probably June 1 but possibly earlier if fire danger continues to rise. In addition Forest Rangers including Lynn Kolund on the Hell Canyon District are not able to hire the permanent fuels technical positions they would normally have on staff, resulting in a much different prescribed fire picture from years past.
Together these two trend indicators add up to an increasingly difficult and more defensive fire policy profile for Black Hills National Forest leadership. Fire managers have decided to stop lighting hand piles (and continue to burn machine piles) to reduce fuel loading, Pechota said. First is the hit to Forest Service budgets in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. With a decrease of $10 million overall but especially in key mountain pine beetle and fuels reduction funds, agency personnel are no longer willing to take chances with small prescribed fires. The second reason concerns benefits and risk. "There is so little potential to create positive change on a scale sufficient to overcome the risks of the prescribed fires, both hand piles and broadcast burning, that it just doesn't make sense to keep doing it, at least for now."

Wildland fire fighters are making some very tough calls this week, opting for a more conservative approach to prescribed fire and pile burning.

Black Hills National Forest fire staff officer Todd Pechota said his wildfire crews are down from 16 fire engines to 14 engines Forest-wide. The engines left in service will be fully staffed later than usual, probably June 1 but possibly earlier if fire danger continues to rise. In addition Forest Rangers including Lynn Kolund on the Hell Canyon District are not able to hire the permanent fuels technical positions they would normally have on staff, resulting in a much different prescribed fire picture from years past.

Together these two trend indicators add up to an increasingly difficult and more defensive fire policy profile for Black Hills National Forest leadership. Fire managers have decided to stop lighting hand piles (and continue to burn machine piles) to reduce fuel loading, Pechota said. First is the hit to Forest Service budgets in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. With a decrease of $10 million overall but especially in key mountain pine beetle and fuels reduction funds, agency personnel are no longer willing to take chances with small prescribed fires. The second reason concerns benefits and risk. "There is so little potential to create positive change on a scale sufficient to overcome the risks of the prescribed fires, both hand piles and broadcast burning, that it just doesn't make sense to keep doing it, at least for now."

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