Skip Navigation

Prescribed fire to restore native vegetation

10_08_14_RinikerRX_ArticlePrescribed fires often bring to mind fuels reduction and wildland fire mitigation. However, a fire conducted by Teton Interagency Fire managers this week had a stronger tie to Jackson Hole history and early farming practices. 

October 8, 2014

Prescribed fires often bring to mind fuels reduction and wildland fire mitigation. However, a fire conducted by Teton Interagency Fire managers this week had a stronger tie to Jackson Hole history and early farming practices.

Beginning in 1862, individuals could apply for a 160–acre homestead west of the Mississippi through the Homestead Act. The land was free, but in order to obtain the deed, an owner had to meet several requirements within a span of five years. In addition to residing on the land and building a dwelling, a homesteader needed to cultivate the land before “proving up.”

Many early settlers to the Jackson Hole valley combined both farming and ranching operations, introducing domestic grasses onto the landscape. In Grand Teton National Park, homesteaders selected the lands east of Blacktail Butte for cultivation because they recognized the richer soils deposited by the alluvial fan of Ditch Creek. The area, originally settled in the 1890s, later became known as Mormon Row. By the 1920s, landowners had converted the area from native shrub–grass to agricultural grasses and forbs. Flood irrigation ditches from Kelly Warm Springs, Ditch Creek, and the Gros Ventre River also became part of the landscape.

Now, over a century later, Mormon Row and adjacent areas are still dominated by non–native agronomic grasses along with noxious weed species. Approximately 4,000 acres of former hayfields, abandoned since the 1970s, are targeted for restoration to return the fallow pasture lands back to native vegetation.

Non–native perennial grasses can be an impediment to native plant succession and restoration. Without intervention and management, the extant pasture grasses may remain, preventing natural succession from occurring on site. 

The Bison and Elk Management Plan (BEMP) for the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, finalized and adopted by both agencies in 2007, outlines desired improvements to winter, summer, and transitional range of refuge and park lands, while at the same time ensuring that the biotic integrity and environmental health of the resources will be sustained over the long term.

The multi–stage hayfields restoration process, identified in the BEMP, calls for using fire as the first phase, followed by herbicide applications to remove non–native grasses and forbs and subsequent reseeding.

Monday’s prescribed fire treated a 317–acre unit, one of 18 units in the restoration project. The Riniker Unit prescribed fire was initiated to remove both plants and accumulated plant litter that could reduce the effectiveness of herbicide applications and prevent the seed–to–soil contact needed when native seeds are reintroduced to the site.

The prescribed fire, which was assigned a low complexity rating, was completed in one day, followed up by monitoring of the site. Interagency crews from Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger–Teton National Forest carried out the firing and holding operations and engine work; the National Elk Refuge provided a fire information officer.

Additional photos of the Riniker Unit prescribed fire are posted on the National Elk Refuge’s photo gallery.

Last Updated: Oct 08, 2014
Return to main navigation