Huron Wetland Management District
Mountain-Prairie Region
Fire Program

Fire fighter completing fire operations

Fire District

An active part of the HWMD is our fire program which is a part of the Huron Fire Management District (HFMD). The HFMD is a little different from the HWMD in that it includes all the USFWS lands in southeast South Dakota. This includes Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (near Lake Andes SD), Karl Mundt NWR (near Pickstown SD) and Madison WMD (near Madison SD) along with the two national fish hatcheries Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery (near Yankton SD) and D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery (in Spearfish SD).

What we do

Our prime duties are to provide for Public and Firefighter safety, protection of Public and Private property from damage from wildfire. We provide fire suppression on the Federal lands in the district and assist local and National fire agencies with either fire management or suppression. The Huron Fire District has four Light (type 6) fire engines, one medium (type 3) engine, one tracked (AM Scout) low ground pressure attach vehicle and several 6X6 UTV's configured to suppress fires.

In the HFMD, we average 27 prescribed burns totaling approximately 3,200 acres each year. In addition to district fire management, our fire personnel assist in fire management to other agencies locally and nationwide. In past few years our fire crews assisted other federal and state agencies in their Fire management duties in South Dakota. Additionally we respond to all of the other 49 states as requested.

For the fire staff, spring means the start of the prescribed fire season. This is the time of year when properly applied fire is the most effective in achieving our management goals. The actual process of conducting a prescribed fire begins long before any flames hit the ground. We are also using fuels treatments in the fall to assist in gaining a broader window for fuels reduction.

There are several types of Fuel treatments that we implement:

First is Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), this is generally near towns of heavy concentrations of home sites near our federal lands. We treat fuels in the WUI to reduce the chance of catastrophic fires leaving FWS lands and endangering the local public.

Second is Hazardous Fuel Reduction (HFR), this is similar to the WUI except the concentration of homes or public infrastructure is not present. The goal is to remove heavy concentrations of down dead fuels to reduce the chance of a damaging wildfire.

Third is Habitat maintenance treatments, these are designed to meet the goals of the biological staff to improve the FWS lands for wildlife benefit and to bring the lands back to a native state.

We achieve the treatment goals by several methods: Prescribed Fire (controlled burns), mechanical removal (mowing, tree cutting, haying and cropping) and at times grazing.

Why we do it

The first step starts during the preceding year, when we identify what units we plan to burn and what we hope to achieve. Typically the two main reasons we burn here at the HFMD are to remove hazardous accumulations of dead down fuels and habitat maintenance. Usually the two reasons go hand in hand.

The main reasons for prescribed burns are the reduction of hazardous accumulation of down dead fuels that will lessen the chance of catastrophic wildfires on Service lands that threaten the local public. Additionally we are attempting to replicate the prairies natural burn cycle on our Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA's) and promote the growth of native grasses and shrubs. Here at the HFMD we try to follow a ten-year burn cycle meaning most of our WPA's should see fire at least once every ten years. Sometimes special management decisions require us to burn a WPA more or less often but ten years is our goal.

The objective of a habitat maintenance burn is to stress the non-native cool season grasses such as smooth brome right after they start the growth cycle. Stressing these plants early in the cycle gives native warm season grasses a better chance to become established and hopefully out-compete these non-native grasses. We also use habitat maintenance burns to help in the control of noxious weeds.

Safety is always the foremost consideration of the Fish and Wildlife Service whenever conducting a prescribed burn. We will not compromise personal or property safety in order to conduct a burn. "If we can't do it safely we won't do it".

Because of this safety concern, a burn plan is required for any prescribed fire. Basically a burn plan is a prescription of what it will take to conduct this burn in a safe manner and still accomplish our goal. Within this prescription numerous boundaries or trigger points are identified. Some of these trigger points are weather conditions such as relative humidity levels, wind speed and wind direction. Other portions of the plan include smoke management strategies in order to minimize the amount of smoke on roads or homes, number of personnel and type of equipment needed to accomplish the burn and contingency plans in the rare case an escape does occur.

A common concern we hear each year is the fear that we are reducing the pheasant population by burning pheasants and their nests. The reality is it is extremely rare that we actually burn over a pheasant. In most instances pheasants will fly long before they can be trapped in the flames. Burning over of a nest does occasionally occur, however in an attempt to minimize this we try to conduct our burns before pheasant nesting is at its peak. Studies indicate that most nesting birds will simply re-nest following a burn over.

Habitat benefits from a prescribed burn are numerous. Removal of built up thatch resulting in thicker stands of grasses and improved nesting cover is the most obvious result. Other benefits include stimulation of native species, reduction of fuels available to wildfires and in some cases reduction of noxious weeds.

Properly applied, fire is an extremely important management tool in our attempts to preserve and restore native ecosystem on our WPA's.

As the spring progresses due to weather and green up in the grass, we stop our prescribed burning operations and begin mechanical treatments of the habitat. We will remove trees and shrubs from dead and over crowded shelter belts. We remove trees on our lands to restore the native prairie ecosystem. However, we do not cut all of our shelter belts as wildlife of all types utilize our lands and trees are important and vital to their health. Trees have been shown to adversely affect many grassland dependant birds. Many of these grassland dependant bird populations are in decline due to the loss of habitat and the introduction of trees on a historically grassland dominant landscape.

As the summer progresses we transition into fire suppression on our lands and neighboring lands to prevent damaging wildfires. This suppression effort includes the rest of the nation. Because fire danger is generally low in eastern South Dakota during the summer, fire staff personnel are places on a national 24 hr call up list that might find us traveling to any part of the nation to assist in wildlife suppression. In the past we have even sent fire personnel from HFMD as far away as Australia to assist in their firefighting efforts.

Who we are

 

 

FMO (Vacant) (District Fire Management Officer)

The FMO is stationed at the Huron WMD Huron, SD. They oversee the fire programs for the Huron WMD, Madison WMD, Lake Andes WMD, Gavins Point National fish hatchery and DC Booth Historic fish hatchery (Huron FMD).  They ensure that the programs provide the highest level of safety for our staff and the public. They directly supervise the fire staff and all seasonal fire fighters on the district. They perform as a Burn Boss 2 on local Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and Hazard Fuel Reduction (HFR) prescribed burns.  They assist on national interagency level wildfires that occur in our local area and anywhere else in the nation at DIVS and ICT3 levels. They also provide training to the staff and ensure that the staff recieves the proper training to become the best firefighters possible.

 

Charles Frohme Charles Frohme (District Prescribed Fire Tech)

Charles is stationed at the Huron WMD Huron, SD. He is responsible for the planning and tracking of the fuels treatments in the Huron FMD.  This includes: prescribed burning for WUI, HFR reduction and habitat improvement; mechanical treatment to meet fuels reduction when burning is not an option on the western ½ of the Huron FMD.  In addition, that position serves in place of the FMO where appropriate. Other duties are to manage and maintain the remote weather stations on the district, surve as a Burn Boss 2, as an Incident Commander T4 for the district and on national fire assignments.  Other key duties are to assist in teaching and planning of NWCG fire classes, serve as an ATV instructor, and assist with oversight of the operations of the fire crew.  Most importantly ensure that all operations are conducted safely and personnel have a safe and enjoyable day on the Huron Fire District

 

Jeff Meadows Jeff Meadows (District Prescribed Fire Specialist)

Jeff is stationed at Madison WMD Madison, SD. He is responsible for the planning and tracking of the fuels treatments in the Huron FMD.  This includes: prescribed burning for WUI, HFR reduction and habitat improvement; mechanical treatment to meet fuels reduction when burning is not an option on the eastern ½ of the Huron FMD.  In addition, his position serves in place of the FMO where appropriate. Other duties are to serve as a Burn Boss 2 and as an Incident Commander T4 for the district and on national fire assignments.  Other key duties are to assist in teaching and planning of NWCG fire classes, and assist with oversight of the operations of the fire crew.  Most importantly ensure that all operations are conducted safely and personnel have a safe and enjoyable day on the Huron Fire District.

 

Garrett Welch

Garrett Welch (District Lead Range Tech, Fire)

Garrett is stationed at the Huron WMD office in Huron, SD. His duties comprise: assists with fuels treatments in the Huron fire district.  This includes: prescribed burning for WUI, HFR reduction and habitat improvement; mechanical treatment to meet fuels reduction when burning is not an option; unit prep work that is required to conduct prescribed burning (inserting mow breaks, chainsaw work, and other mechanical treatment methods); pre-burn monitoring and wildfire suppression locally on FWS lands and assisting area VFD’s.  He performs at the ENGB and CRWB level locally and on national assignments.  Another major part of his job is to oversee maintenance of the fire equipment and to make sure every thing is in proper working condition.  He also ensures that our fire cache is maintained and supplied.  In addition to being a part of the Huron Fire District Staff, at certain times of the year he’s on various off-district fire assignment and training opportunities

 

Fire Crew Range Tech, Seasonl appointments (firefighter)
The season fire staff is stationed at the Huron WMD Huron, SD. They assist with fuels treatments in the Huron FMD.  This includes: prescribed burning for WUI, HFR reduction and habitat improvement; mechanical treatment to meet fuel reduction when burning is not an option; unit prep work that is required to conduct prescribed burning (inserting mow breaks, chainsaw work, and other mechanical treatment methods); pre-burn monitoring and wildfire suppression locally on FWS and assisting local VFD’s. They perform at the FFT1 and FFT2 levels on local and national assignments.  In addition to being a part of the Huron Fire District Staff, at certain times of the year they are on various off-district fire assignment and training opportunities.

 

If you have any questions regarding our fire management operations please give us a call at 605-352-5894.

 

Last updated: February 22, 2011