Oct 18, 2021 3:48 PM

Wind Cave National Park prepares for prescribed burn

Posted Oct 18, 2021 3:48 PM

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, S.D. – Planning is underway to burn 676 acres of land surrounding the park’s developed area this fall and 669 acres adjacent to the Elk Mountain Campground next spring. The fall burn could occur as early as the week of October 18.   

The project area includes dense and open ponderosa pine forest with a grass understory. This is a wildland urban interface area involving structures in the park’s headquarters area and a nearby private residence. Ignition will take place through the utilization of ground resources, and the primary carrier of fire will be grass. National Park Service firefighters with support from other interagency resources will assist with the burn. A media advisory concerning this burn will be released prior to ignition. 

Map of proposed burn area segmented into 4 blocks of different colors. Highway 385 borders the burn on the east while the park’s boundary borders the burn on the west side. NPS graphic
Map of proposed burn area segmented into 4 blocks of different colors. Highway 385 borders the burn on the east while the park’s boundary borders the burn on the west side. NPS graphic

“Prescribed burns help reduce the threat of wildfires and allows firefighters to better protect homes and structures,” said park superintendent Leigh Welling. “The primary objectives of this burn are to reduce fuel loading in the ponderosa pine forest and to decrease encroachment of young ponderosa pine onto the prairie, improving the flow of water into the cave.” 

During the day of the burn, smoke from the fire may be heavy at times along Highway 385 and visible from the surrounding region. The highway might be closed intermittently for safety reasons. Unless there is significant precipitation, smoke might be seen in the area for several days following the burn.  

The Prairie Vista Trail behind the visitor center will be closed during fire operations and possibly for two weeks following the burn. Other impacts to park operations are expected but efforts will be made to minimize visitor impacts. 

This fire represents a continuation of the park's prescribed fire program which began in 1972. Segments of the park are burned, under favorable conditions, to simulate natural fires. Prescribed fires maintain the balance between forest and prairie, remove the build-up of dead fuels which reduces the chance of a catastrophic wildfire, and rejuvenate the native prairie grasses.   

Prescribed fires are carefully conducted under identified and approved prescription conditions.  Park staff consider factors such as humidity, fuel moisture, wind speed and direction and short and long-range weather patterns in establishing the acceptable conditions for conducting a prescribed fire. If the prescribed set of conditions cannot be met on a specific day, park staff will postpone the planned fire.