Interagency fire crew heads to the burn site at Flat Ranch Preserve. Credit: Robert Unnasch, The Nature Conservancy

Topic: Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

Citizens Witness Successful Prescribed Burn in Idaho

Author: Matthew Ward

Landscape view of the ranch and the surrounding meadow, covered with wildflowers.

A springtime view of the ranch’s headquarters. Credit: The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently completed 70 acres of controlled burning on TNC’s Flat Ranch Preserve, a 1,600 acre, working cattle ranch on the banks of the Upper Henrys Fork River in Island Park, Idaho. This burn was implemented in partnership with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest (CTNF), the Fire Learning Network, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (IPSFC). It was TNC’s first burn in Idaho and was the successful culmination of two years of planning by TNC and the CTNF. This partnership not only allowed TNC to safely return fire to a priority grassland, but it also provided needed, local training opportunities for USDA Forest Service fire staff.

Historically, the grasslands in this part of Idaho experienced fire every 20 to 40 years, but fire has been mostly absent here since European settlers arrived in the late 1860s. The purpose of TNC’s Flat Ranch project was to begin to implement a prescribed fire program across the preserve to rejuvenate willows, native grasses and other plants.

Landscape shot of a wetland on the ranch.

Flat Ranch Preserve’s grasslands require periodic fire to stay healthy. Along with other members of the Island Park Sustainable Fire Community, preserve staff are working to increase community members’ understanding of the risks and benefits of fire. Credit: Megan Grover-Cereda, The Nature Conservancy

Three weeks before the fire, we at the Ranch sent out notification letters to all of our neighbors, informing them of our intention to burn 70 acres on our property. Since this was not only our property’s first fire but also the first controlled burn in the general area for quite some time, we anticipated that the fire would not be received well by our neighbors or by the community at large. Gladly, we were proven wrong. We received no complaints and one family actually told us that they too had been thinking of planning a controlled burn on their ranch.

Now, we just needed to wait for the weather to cooperate, which it finally did in late September. After a summer of abnormally low rainfall, we started to receive relief and by mid-September, the wildfire danger was reduced and the burn ban was lifted. And by September 28, after a few days of sun, the grass was dry enough to implement the prescription. This was fortuitous, since the very next day it started raining and by the weekend it started snowing.

Children, parents and even pets watching the fire from the ranch's front porch.

Local families watching the prescribed burn from ranch headquarters. Credit: Robert Unnasch, The Nature Conservancy

The fire was a success and is part of a larger strategy to not only encourage surrounding private landowners to incorporate controlled burns into their ranch management operations but also to further engage the public. To that end, we invited the community to watch the fire from Ranch headquarters, which overlooked the burn unit from a safe distance. Land managers were present to discuss fire ecology, the role fire plays across the landscape, defensible space, fire adapted communities, forest restoration, watershed health and landscape resiliency.

A group of people gathered outside.

Land managers explaining the science and planning behind the ranch’s prescribed fire efforts. Credit: Robert Unnasch, The Nature Conservancy

The Flat Ranch burn proved to be a good reminder for our town that fire is a natural, necessary part of the ecosystems around IPSFC. CTNF and members of the IPSFC are hopeful that residents will keep this in mind and will use the lessons they learned from land managers to prepare their homes and properties for next year’s fire season.

Two firefighters manage what was a successful prescribed fire.

The successful burn underway. Credit: Mike Norris, The Nature Conservancy

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