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Renewing Grasslands Through Prescribed Burns

Sparking action and achievement in North Dakota

Through a combination of educational initiatives, hands-on workshops, and the appointment of a dedicated Prescribed Burn Coordinator, Audubon Great Plains and its partners are committed to raising awareness and understanding of the invaluable role prescribed fire plays as a habitat management tool. Join us in our journey of knowledge, stewardship, and rejuvenation as we delve into the critical significance of prescribed burns in protecting grassland habitats for birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. 

In the past year, Audubon Great Plains crafted a comprehensive strategy aimed at delivering three essential messages that emphasize the significance of controlled burns in grassland management. Firstly, prescribed fire stands as a robust tool, enabling landowners to defend their grasslands from encroaching threats while preserving the delicate balance of their ecosystems. Secondly, it promotes species diversity by reviving native vegetation and nurturing a thriving habitat for a wide array of plant, bird, and wildlife species. Lastly, our communication plan identifies the importance of burning with confidence illustrating the importance of safety techniques, the importance of identifying roles and responsibilities, and steps to take to conduct a safe burn, enabling landowners to engage in prescribed burns while embracing this conservation technique. 

To effectively convey these key messages, each message was paired with an icon and a corresponding blog post, which were integrated into a cohesive campaign on the Audubon Great Plains website, social media platforms, and email newsletters. 

A few years ago, the North Dakota Prescribed Fire Co-operative (ND Fire Co-op) was established in partnership with Audubon Great Plains, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota Game and Fish, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and The Nature Conservancy as a way to provide resources and expertise on the importance of prescribed burns. The coop works to develop the tools, knowledge, and connections necessary for landowners to establish burn associations. In the long run, a self-sustaining landowner prescribed fire program will benefit North Dakota’s grasslands the most. In the past year, the ND Fire Co-op achieved a significant milestone by hiring the state's first Prescribed Burn Coordinator, Kelli Kuska, under the leadership of Pheasants Forever. Her role involves close collaboration with a diverse range of individuals and resource professionals to foster the development and implementation of Prescribed Fire Associations. 

Notable highlights from this year include the prescribed fire workshops held earlier this spring in partnership with USGS at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. These workshops expanded awareness regarding the benefits of prescribed fire to over 20 participants.  Attendees engaged in a classroom-style learning environment with comprehensive coverage of various topics and worked together under the guidance of the burn boss from The Nature Conservancy to ensure a safe and successful on-site burn. The introductory-level workshop illustrated the need for advanced opportunities to further educate and equip interested landowners in the practice of prescribed burning. In response to that identified need, the ND Fire Co-op also organized a more focused workshop in the fall for six landowners who already possessed a basic understanding of prescribed fire and had previously attended an introductory-level prescribed fire training. 

In conclusion, Audubon Great Plains and partners remain committed to advancing the cause of grassland preservation through prescribed burns. The workshops, hiring of a Prescribed Burn Coordinator, and the multi-faceted communication approach have all been instrumental in raising awareness and understanding of the critical role that prescribed fire plays in safeguarding these vital habitats. The advantages of prescribed burns extend far beyond the immediate ecological impact. One of the most significant beneficiaries of this management tool is the diverse community of grassland birds that rely on these habitats for their survival. Grassland birds such as the Western Meadowlark, Bobolink, and short-eared owl, to name a few, depend on the open landscapes supported by controlled burns. These birds have evolved to thrive in grassland ecosystems, where they forage, nest, and raise their young.  

As we reflect on our achievements, we look forward to a future where prescribed burns are utilized as an essential management tool ensuring the sustained health of our grasslands for generations to come.  

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