I’m sure I wasn’t the only one looking for a distraction this week. I was lucky to have the chance to help with some prescribed burning at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. The combination of that site and that activity provided a great way for me to escape my own brain. I still didn’t sleep very well, but I got through the days…
Chad Bladow, The Nature Conservancy’s Fire Manager organized and led two prescribed burns that totaled over 1000 acres and three miles of grassland/woodland along the south side of the Niobrara River. Over several years, staff and contractors have been cutting and piling eastern red cedar trees that survived the 2012 wildfire. One of the objectives of this fire was to clean up the piles and downed wood from that work. We also wanted to kill additional trees that had shown up since cutting operations or that were missed because of size or location (on steep slopes, etc.). In addition, opening up the understory habitat of the wooded areas will have multiple benefits for wildlife habitat and the vigor/diversity of the plants growing beneath the trees.
On day one, we burned out a two mile unit that had Sandhills prairie on the south edge and the river on the north. It took the majority of the day, but burned very well with low humidity, warm temperatures, and light winds. Ignition was completed before sundown, but the fire burned (at a much lower intensity) through the night within the center of the unit. The next morning, we did some quick checks of the perimeter to make sure there was no risk of the remaining smoldering trees causing a fire outside the boundaries. Then we started burning the second unit.
Not only did we achieve our ecological objectives for the fire, it was also a great partnership-building experience, with crew members representing several organizations, including state and federal agencies, private conservation groups, a local prescribed fire group, and the local fire department. Coordinating all those people, while following strict COVID-19 safety protocols, was no mean feat, but it all came together beautifully – as did the fires themselves.
Prescribed fire is a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding when it’s over. Normally, when I’m leading burns, I feel a lot of stress between the time the fire is ignited and when it’s extinguished. However, when I’m just a part of the crew – as I was this week – I can pull back a little and enjoy the experience more. That was really helpful this time around since adding more stress to my life was not what I was looking for.
Hey – no matter whether your favored candidate(s) win or lose, please be kind to yourselves and each other. Regardless of the result, it’s clear we have a lot of major divisions to heal. Please do what you can to help with that, but don’t forget to step away when you need to sink into whatever distractions allow you to maintain your own mental health. Be well, friends.