CRP and Grassland Fire Planning Workshops throughout SD in February

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Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — The 2015 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Grassland Prescribed Fire Planning Courses will be offered throughout South Dakota February 2015.

Courses are slated to be held in the following locations:

• Mitchell – Feb. 10 at Mitchell Technical Institute, in room TRC 511 of the Nordby Trades Center, (1800 E. Spruce St, same building as the SDSU Extension Regional Center located on the south side of I-90, exit 332 across from the sale barn).

• Redfield – Feb 11 at the Historic Train Depot (715 3rd St. W.) near junction of Hwy 212 and 281.

• Milbank – Feb 12 at the Milbank Visitor Center Community Room (1001 E. 4th Ave.) on the north side of Hwy 12.

Classes at all locations will begin at 9 a.m. and run until 4:30 p.m. with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m. All classes are free and no pre-registration is required.

A one-hour lunch break will be held. Participants are on their own for lunch.

The training focuses on instructing landowners and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff on the methods of planning for and conducting prescribed fires on CRP and grasslands in general.

Topics include firebreak development, grassland ecology, fire planning, resources and tools, weather, safety and communications.

Participants should come with maps of their areas prepared to receive input on their individual fire projects if they wish.

This is the third consecutive year that SDSU Extension, NRCS, Pheasants Forever and other organizations will host the fire planning workshops.

The workshop series began in 2013 to improve the understanding of both landowners and NRCS staff on use and benefits of prescribed fire.

Landowners wishing to utilize prescribed fire as a management action in their CRP contracts are required to utilize an FSA/NRCS approved burn plan. This course offers guidance on the most current version of the FSA/NRCS plan.

“As we’ve educated landowners on the benefits of prescribed fire for grassland establishment, maintenance, habitat, grazing, and seed production over the last decade or so, it’s become increasingly clear that more training is necessary in the area of fire planning,” said Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist. “What we’ve found is that the planning process we’ve developed has value to all landowners interested in using fire for grassland management, not just CRP projects.”

To utilize fire on CRP, landowners must first have the practice written into their contracts. Stan Boltz, NRCS State Range Conservationist, explains the process in more detail.

“The first step is to have had identified fire as a practice in your CRP contract. Secondly, to implement the fire practice you actually need an FSA approved fire plan. Since FSA didn’t have a standard plan template, county committees charged with approving fire plans were caught in a difficult situation,” said Boltz. “NRCS and our partners sat down and created a plan and training program that can be used throughout the state by both landowners and NRCS staff associated with a fire project.”

The training is specifically geared to help producers and NRCS staff become familiar with one another through cooperative planning.

“We offer this joint planning exercise as a launch point for the staff and landowners to work together on a fire plan. We encourage them to bring in whoever they plan to have conduct the fire early in the process, whether that be the landowner’s family and friends, a VFD, or a professional contractor,” Boltz said.

Mike Blaalid, a Farm Bill Biologist with Pheasants Forever in Mitchell has been involved with the program for several years and is excited about the opportunity it provides to landowners, NRCS staff, and area Volunteer Fire Departments.

“We really encourage members of volunteer fire departments to attend these sessions,” Blaalid said. “The opportunity to engage landowners before they light a fire is a real benefit to VFDs. Also, under the CRP practice payment structure, burning CRP can provide rural VFD’s the opportunity for significant fundraising while offering an opportunity to get their people in the field on a valuable training exercise.”

Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist is happy to once again offer the training. “I like the fact that we move these sessions around the state. We really hit a diverse audience and get to hear what challenges folks are facing in all areas when it comes to utilizing fire,” said Bauman. “Some areas are more or less fire friendly than others depending on the culture and landscape features, but in all areas we’ve had folks show up who want to learn planning, communication, and safety strategies. So far we’ve had about 225 people come through the door and receive this training. Prescribed fire is 90 percent preparation, it’s not complicated when one takes a systematic approach.”

For more information, please call the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Watertown at 605-882-5140.