August 8, 2011
Teton Interagency fire personnel and Grand Teton National Park natural resource managers are planning a 186-acre prescribed fire for mid to late August, whenever conditions are favorable. The burn unit is part of a 4,057-acre native rangeland restoration project in the Hunter Ranch area of the park. This project involves a multistage effort to convert pasture land back to native vegetation as part of the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan for the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park.
The Aspen Ridge/Hunter Ranch area was an irrigated hayfield prior to the 1970s. Despite a decades-long recovery time, untreated areas of the extensive hayfields are still dominated by non-native grasses and a host of noxious weeds.
"Restoration of native shrub lands requires a multi-step/multi-year process that poses distinct challenges at each level,” said Jason Brengle, Grand Teton National Park vegetation biologist. “We’ve been very successful with the first obstacle in the process, which was removal of existing smooth brome. During the period between the initial herbicide treatment to remove smooth brome and the planting of native seed the following year, most sites become colonized by unwanted annual plant species and patches of noxious weeds. To inhibit the growth of these plants, NPS personnel began sowing cereal grain in the fall to act as a cover crop throughout the next growing season. The cover crop also adds organic material into the soil and helps to loosen compacted soil.”
The objective of this prescribed burn is to remove the cover crop in preparation for seeding the site with native species this fall. The prescribed fire will eliminate an additional herbicide treatment, and the late summer timing of the burn will help maximize benefits provided by the cover crop.
Fire managers will consider several factors before beginning the Hunter Ranch prescribed fire; these include weather forecasts, the condition of vegetation (dried or green), and the presence of nesting birds in the area.
Prescribed-fire ignitions will proceed only when favorable weather and fire behavior conditions are met. Smoke will be evident during the day of the burn and may persist for several days after, especially in mountain valleys during early morning and evening hours. Local residents and visitors should exercise caution in the vicinity of the prescribed-fires. Minimal traffic restrictions may occur to allow for public and firefighter safety, and fire equipment access.