Some of you are aware that there are several wildfires burning along the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska. As of this morning, the combination of fires had burned an estimated 58,000 acres, and several areas are still actively burning. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve is included within the area affected by these fires and much of the land within the Preserve has already burned.
I drove up early this morning to see if I could be of help. By the time I got here, the fire on the Preserve had settled down quite a bit, and the main tasks now are to mop up remaining hot spots and watch for new flare ups. Crews from the Conservancy’s Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri chapters, along with local fire departments and others have been here since late last week. Yesterday was the worst for the Conservancy, as crews worked extraordinarily hard (and successfully) to prevent the Preserve headquarters from burning while embers rained down from the burning woodlands to the south.
While things have settled down quite a bit around the Conservancy headquarters, the fires are still active and dangerous elsewhere. As far as I’ve heard, no one has been seriously injured by the fires, but several homes have been lost and a couple towns have been evacuated. Temperatures continue to be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with very low humidities and gusty winds.
On Conservancy land, all of the staff are safe, and we think all of the bison and cattle made it through the fire ok too. I’ll post more later when we’ve had more time to assess the situation and think about next steps, but I wanted to get some photos and information out to people who have contacted me (and others) with questions and concerns.
In terms of The Nature Conservancy’s land – which is all I have much information on – the quick summary, as I understand it, is as follows. Most of the Preserve north of the river has burned. About half of the west bison pasture and the majority of the east bison pasture burned, along with a lot of the cattle pastures. As I said earlier, the headquarters buildings are unscathed. I don’t know much more than that at this point.
It’s too early to discuss the ecological implications of the fire very much – the immediate focus needs to be on the health and safety of the people in the area, their land, homes, and businesses. That said, the ecosystems along the Niobrara River will recover. It will look different in the coming years – especially in the woodland areas that burned – but there will be many species and ecological communities that will thrive in the aftermath of this event. For now, however, let’s get this fire put out.