The Loess Canyons Rangeland Alliance Receives Grant from Nebraska Environmental Trust

Lincoln, NE – May 24, 2019 – The Loess Canyons Rangeland Alliance will receive $140,000 from the Nebraska Environmental Trust for the Grassland Stewardship with Prescribed Fire project. The Trust Board announced funding for the project at its meeting on April 4, 2019 in Lincoln. The project is one of 117 projects receiving $19,501,444 in grant awards from the Nebraska Environmental Trust this year.

The Loess Canyons is a 338,000-acre mosaic of largely unfragmented mixed-grass prairie and wooded canyons.  With deep, fertile soils, this landscape is a valuable forage resource where family-owned ranchers are stewards of the land, cattle and the 29 unique species of concern that thrive there. The Loess Canyons is identified as a Biologically Unique Landscape by the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project and as a focus area for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. 

The canyon landscape has been overrun by invasive eastern red cedar trees; some properties are over 70% covered, causing a decline in Nebraska's grasslands. The Grassland Stewardship with Prescribed Fire project plans to assist landowners and burn associations to restore ecological resiliency and rangeland productivity in the Loess Canyons by empowering landowners with the knowledge, funds, and technical assistance to remove cedars, create firebreaks, defer grazing, and work with local burn associations to return fire to the ecosystem. Timing is critical to maintain the current synergy between landowners, burn associations, and resource professionals as they aspire toward the goal of burning 33,000 acres per year. 

The Loess Canyons Rangeland Alliance (LRCA), private landowners, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Twin Platte Natural Resources District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others have an effective and successful partnership in place to restore grasslands within the Loess Canyons. The LCRA seeks to expand this partnership to do over $1,000,000.00 worth of restoration, resulting in over 4,000 acres of invasive trees removed and to facilitate 30,000 acres of prescribed fire using grants and matching funds.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the Trust has provided over $305 million in grants to over 2,200 projects across the state. Anyone can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to preserve, protect and restore our natural resources for future generations.

Great Plains Fire Summit

Several LCRA and NPFC members traveled to Ardmore, OK for the Great Plains Fire Summit. The Summit's goal was to "promote the use of prescribed fire by creating an opportunity for landowners, agencies and NGOs to network and discuss the benefits and effectiveness of prescribed burning for the sustainability of our plant, livestock and wildlife resources." The week was a great opportunity to spread awareness about prescribed fire in Nebraska and to learn from the experiences of other groups. Brian Teeter, Scott Stout, Quenton Mortensen, and Tell Deatrich attended the meeting. The opening session included reports from the state PBA's. Brian brought an entertaining and exciting report of all the amazing fire year we have had here in Nebraska. There were also several featured speakers during the opening session.

Steven "Torch" Miller brought an interesting report of prescribed fire in Florida. They burn lots of wetlands in Florida, meaning they actually burn on top of water. Some of their regular equipment includes an air boat and an amphibious tracked machine. He represented the Northeastern Area and Eastern Region where they have implemented a program where everyday is a burn day. Their employees must fill out a report on why they did NOT burn on that day, each day. Burning takes precedence over absolutely everything, even scheduled meetings, in his district. A good takeaway from his presentation was that we must help our neighbors that are resistant to fire and its risks realize that "choosing to do nothing has risks and consequences as well". Many people from all walks of life are in denial when it comes to the eminent threat that ERC presents to Nebraska's grasslands. I would encourage you to visit southernfireexchange.org to learn more about Prescribed Fire in the southeastern states.

Dirac Twidwell, from UNL, spoke on Coerced Resilience in Fire Management. We spent much of our time visiting with Dirac over meals and drinks while in Oklahoma and learned a lot from him. We are fortunate to have a the relationship with UNL that we do. I hate to say what the presentation was specifically about, but I wrote in my notes that coercive power is the least effective form of power and we experience that in the form of Burn Permits, social propaganda, neighbor hate and resistance and the 20, 20, 80 rule. These forms of coercion hold us back from being most effective when opportunity is most available, no matter how helpful or necessary we view these forms of coercion. There was much more to his presentation, but I will leave it at that for now.

John Wier from OSU discussed how many people use Liability as a scapegoat to resist using Prescribed Fire. John was able to get a stand alone Prescribed Fire insurance plan in the state of Oklahoma and make the landowners aware of this great new insurance that they could have so they would feel secure when conducting prescribed fire on their property. A few years later the insurance company dropped the offering because of low enrollment. People are just looking for excuses not to take action. We must look no further than our friends in the sandhills to see how people refuse to take action until it is much to late in the game.

There were several Breakout Sessions, of which I enjoyed a presentation on using social media to further inform the public and expound the benefits of Prescribed Fire. If you would like to help Moderate the LCRA's Facebook page, Youtube page, or start another social media outlet for us, please let me know. If you have suggestions on how to improve out web page, I am open to that as well.

I also enjoyed a session on wildfire and soil health. My takeaway from that session is that we live in a very resilient system that has been thriving under the coexistence grazing and fire at all different times of the year. Both can be tools for us in manipulating the rangeland if we continue to be students of the Range.

There were several other sessions that you may be interested in and you can find them listed on the ok-pba.org web page under events and click on the link for the Meeting Agenda or contact me. Scott Stout was featured in two sessions, one regarding forming a PBA and one with a panel of producers discussing how they use fire on their operations.

We went on a ranch tour to see the terrain, forage type, long term burn plan, and effect of prescribed fire in the Ardmore are. I think we should all be glad we don’t deal with large rocks, limited water, limited man power, and Ashe Juniper here in Nebraska. They conducted a small burn demonstration on 40 acres. It was very green and many attendees doubted that much would burn, but as we saw with our own fall burn, a growing season burn can be very effective, easy, and safe. I would encourage you to be more creative on the time of year that you could burn to achieve your management goals.

I have a few scattered thoughts brought about by the trip:

Why do we believe the cedar is here to stay? Are we so limited in our thinking that we refuse to believe we can restore our ranches to look as they did 50-70 years ago?

If we viewed cedar that same way we view a thistle there would be vastly different implications on how we manage and how our neighbor would manage. Now I recognize the financial problems this view implements, but imagining all the levels of society that view would impact makes it an intriguing proposition and is where I can see this headed if we are able to create an exclusion area in the Loess Canyons.

Do each of our members feel valued and excited about each burn and the role that they have? Is there something that we can reasonably do to ensure they do?

I was surprised that the government agencies were not well represented at the convention. The attendees seemed to be a majority of producers. The LCRA was the only PBA represented with a booth at the convention. I hope that this encourages you to continue to promote the benefits of prescribed fire and be an active member in a group that is making great gains in our area of ecological influence.