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Environmental Sciences

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South Dakota State University - Brookings, SD

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B, Amber L. Jensen, 2018

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Forest and Fire Management and the Effect of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Creation of the Plans.


Forest and Fire Management

Blazing skies, hot burning air surrounds you. Is it a hot day? Or a wildfire. The Legion Lake Fire was the third worst fire in Black Hills history and took place in mid-December of 2017. Nearly no one heard of this fire due to a lack of news coverage. The fire burned over 54,000 acres of land which included forest, prairie, National Park land, State Park land and private property.

The wildlife within the park including the bison, burrows and more were injured in the fire. Many of the burrows had to undergo surgery in hopes of saving them through the use of skin grafts, unfortunately many of the burrows did die (Tupper, Logging).

Also mentioned in the above article was that it took longer to put out the fire due to lack of resources. They found it difficult to receive help because of the fires occurring in Southern California at the same time. It was also difficult as previous December fires had only burned up to 20 acres. This was the first time such a big fire had occurred during winter months, it shocked firefighters and many were unprepared for how to counter the flames.

Winds were blowing up to 57 mph during this fire which helped the flames to travel farther, burning more (Tupper, Risk). The fire was devastating and the worst thing was that there were things that could have been done to prevent it. However, forest fire management strayed from original protocol which lead to the fire not being able to be contained which took a turn and grew into a massive fire that destroyed 54,023 acres.

Lack of media coverage is important as it is denying people the right to know what is occurring in their state or surrounding area. It is also a detrimental thing as it is hiding the improper action plans used by firefighters and forest service members in attempting to control wildfire outbreaks. There are more effective ways of controlling, or even preventing wildfires, and yet, no one knows as it is not covered by the media.

The lack of media coverage is not only found in South Dakota or the Black Hills. A recent Wyoming blaze has been burning for the last week. The fire has now grown and has destroyed 55 homes and burnt an astounding 52,000 acres of land with only 35 percent containment (Galemore). While the lack of media coverage is worrying, the more important thing is the practices that are being used to contain the fires and how the fires were started.

A lot of this could be attributed to a veering away from the original plan for fire management, set into place by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Civilian Conservation Corps comes from an interesting time for the United States, a time filled with economic suffering.

In recent United States history, one of the best presidential executive orders was President Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933. The goal of this executive order was to help the country fight back against the Great Depression it had found itself in. The New Deal featured three main ideas: relief, recovery and reform. Relief programs were the first step in the New Deal and would he.....[read full text]

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The Civilian Conservation Corps was well-known in the Black Hills for the large number of fire watchtowers that they built in the Hills from 1933-1942. Warren Peak Fire Lookout was built in 1938. Custer Peak Fire Lookout was originally built in 1911 but was torn down and rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. Another that was rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps was the Cement Ridge Fire Lookout, that was originally built between 1911 and 1913. Bear Mountain, Green Mountain, Crooks Tower, Crow’s Nest, and Sylvan Peak Fire Lookouts were also some of the few fire lookout towers that were built by Civilian Conservation Corps.

My family was involved in the Civilian Conservation Corps and assisted in a great number of projects throughout the Black Hills and Rapid City. My great-grandfather in Rapid City was responsible for helping to build Dinosaur Park. It is a well-known attraction in Rapid and features several large, concrete dinosaurs on top of a tall hill in the middle of Rapid City.

It is very easy to identify. In addition to this project, my great-grandfather also assisted in building the spillway and dam for Canyon Lake Park, the lake that he would later become a caretaker of.

One of the most prominent projects that was associated with Civilian Conservation Corps in South Dakota is forest management and fire control. This was an area that many participated in and helped to preserve the beauty of the Black Hills. The Black Hills received its’ name for its rolling hills, black from the darkness of the ponderosa pine. Beneath the forest lay fallen pine needles, pinecones and granite.

Animals can be found everywhere in the hills, skittering about, hidden in the forest. A wide variety of wildlife can be found including mule deer, white-tail deer, elk, bison, antelope, porcupine, mountain lions and more. The use of forest management and fire control was for protection of the species of plant life and wildlife in the area. With proper control and management these forms of life were able to better survive among humans who were quickly invading their habitat.

Forest management was an interesting field for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Recruitment for this branch of the Civilian Conservation Corps mostly came from schools with forestry programs, including Stanford, Harvard and other universities. Forestry was a trade opportunity and using these individuals was safer and more effective during the beginning years of forest management.

They gave a wide perspective on the field of forest management and included some additional benefits that proved invaluable, along with forestry, students would learn ecology, natural resources management, geography and environmental science. This lended a great deal of invaluable knowledge to the goals of better protecting the hills through different forms of management.

In the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, Civilian Conservation Corps camps worked on fire suppression and forest protection. The years of 1933-1940 were some of the driest years in the area’s history. During this time, large reforestation projects resulted from the relentless fires. Bushels of ponderosa pine cones were collected f.....

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A lot of time this requires burning at the proper time of year and knowing how to properly burn. Until a slash pile is ready to be burned, it is to be kept underneath a cover that will help prevent fires outside of the wished-for time.

From what I have seen, the National Parks Service in the Black Hills is not properly covering their slash piles, as every time I have driven through the Hills and seen slash piles, the piles have remained uncovered. No matter the time of year, the piles should remain covered until they are ready to be burned. While most slash piles do not spontaneously combust and start wildfires, there is an increased threat to having uncovered slash piles and this is the increased risk of arson taking place.

However, slash piles are not nearly as important as the practice of thinning in forests.

Now, in the article from the National Parks Service, it was mentioned that from 1933-1942 that the Black Hills experienced one of its’ driest times in history. It was also mentioned that large reforestation projects were funded due to the relentless fires. One of the worst fires in Black Hills history occurred during this time. The fire: Mcvey Fire in 1939. It burned 20,758 acres of land.

Thinning the forest may have done more for fire management than many may think. If in 1931 to 1972, a 41-year period where thinning of forests was still maintained, could result in a total of 29 large fires with 109.667 acres of forest burned in the Black Hills region, what could a series of fires in the Black Hills from 2000 to 2014 do, when there are better forest and fire management practices in use? 49 fires with a total estimated damage of 319,216 acres burned (KOTATV).

This does not include the recent Legion Lake fire which burned 54,023 acres.

How could this be? The driest time in Black Hills National Forest’s history resulted in less fire damage than recent years. The common belief is that forest and fire management practices have evolved and improved throughout the years, taking the model set forth by Civilian Conservation Corps and improving upon this. However, this may not be the case if this data is to be trusted.

Recent forest management of the Black Hills and surrounding areas is focused on identifying causal factors of wildfire ignitions from open burning activities in the Black Hills of South Dakota. From this information, they focus on awareness when there is a danger of these factors igniting a blaze. The following factors are what are most commonly tested for: Air Temperature, Relative Humidity, Wind Speed, Wind Direction, Wind Gust, Fuel Temperatu.....

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Most thinning crews can work up to 3 months in a single forest. The average crew typically has between 10 and 15 crew members which means that in a 3-month period one can expect to spend nearly $580,000 - $882,000. With such a limited amount of funds provided to the Forest Services, many would believe this to be too high of a cost to pay. On top of this number, they are required to pay for general seasonal staffing, equipment, repairs, and more.

With all of these costs, I can see where their opinions come from, but the truth is quite different than this opinion.

Truthfully, it is most cost effective to participate in the thinning process of the forest. An example of wildfire costs comes from fires in Arizona and New Mexico. Fire costs including suppression and emergency rehabilitation costs for these fires was estimated at $399 per acre, for a yearly total of over $176 million. A more specific example, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in Arizona, totaled $43 million to $50 million.

Additional costs included $40 million for long-term rehabilitation, $90 million for reforestation, $129 million for home and property losses, and $2.5 million for emergency public assistance (NAU). Currently, one can expect to pay nearly $7000 an hour for assistance from the SDNG (South Dakota National Guard) UH-60 Blackhawks (Cost Analysis).

This is the true destructive forest and fire management plan towards financial budgets. Instead of having a calculated yearly cost through the use of thinning, the forest management officials are choosing to take the risk of a highly damaging forest fire that can cost up to $50 million. To me, this does not make any sense. The more cost-effective plan of management would be to revert back to the original plan of forest and fire management set forth by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

I believe that the current plan can remain, but should be improved upon by including some of the features from the original course that were truly beneficial to the control of wildfires. I believe that this process should definitely include thinning, as it has been proven to assist in the overall health of the forest and the decrease in the overall risks of fire ignition.

I think that slash piles can also continue being used, so long as they are properly covered and the weather has been determined to be the best for burning. It is definitely beneficial to continue using modern-day technology in the control of fire management, continuing to monitor the most significant factors that can lead to open ignition fires, air temperat.....

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Kishk, Yasser. “History of wildfires in the Black Hills.” KOTA Territory News. 25. March 2018. Accessed 4. Oct. 2018.

Tupper, Seth. “Corridors of Risk: Fire highlights the threat to power lines from outside the right-of-way.” Rapid City Journal. 13. May 2018. Accessed 27. Sept. 2018.

Tupper, Seth. “Logging debris piles fueled Legion Lake Fire, expert says.” Rapid City Journal. 21. April 2018. Accessed .....


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