"To promote a greater appreciation of the value of native tallgrass prairie across the landscape by educating agencies and landowners about the processes that shaped the prairie ecosystems (fire and grazing). Furthermore, it is our goal to work with agencies, landowners, and the public to return a more natural fire and grazing regime to the region via promotion of economic incentives, conservation programs, VFD partnerships, and education and to return fire to the landscape in a safe, efficient, ecological and socially sensitive manner."
Fire has shaped and maintained North America's tallgrass prairie for millennia, yet today one rarely encounters fires in the grasslands of the upper Midwest. Exceptions include some nature preserves and wildlife refuges, but the vast majority of intact grassland in this region is owned and managed by ranchers who have limited access to prescribed burning. A dedicated group representing private, state and federal interests in eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota is working to change this.
The Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership was formed in 2004 and has already garnered more than $200,000 in grants to hire a prescribed fire crew to work on private lands across the 2.3-million-acre Prairie Coteau region. These funds are being provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant Program and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Private Stewardship Grant Program. Internal advocacy on behalf of the Partnership by the NRCS and USFWS Prairie Coteau partners was invaluable in securing the grants.
Modeling Conservation-Friendly Management Practices
The Partnership burned portions of five privately owned sites totaling more than 500 acres in 2005. Three more properties were added in 2006, when 431 acres were treated. Thanks to an effective public outreach effort, upwards of 70 livestock producers are now interested in using the new crew to test the effectiveness of prescribed fire on their lands. The Prairie Coteau fire crew will not charge ranchers for their services during the initial stages of what the Partnership expects to be a sustained effort.
Each treatment area will be monitored, and different fire-grazing cycles will be applied, depending upon the condition of the treatment area and the goals of the landowner. The Partnership’s overall objectives are to conserve biodiversity, including rare and endangered species, improve management practices on lands that are currently being managed to improve native species habitat, increase the number of private landowners using ecologically sound prescribed fire and grazing, and model appropriate disturbance regimes while exploring new markets for participating landowners.
This effort will complement existing programs such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service Northern Tallgrass Prairie Initiative and the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Wildlife Refuge, Partners for Fish and Wildlife projects, and a variety of conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership is one of more than 70 community-based projects involved in the U.S. Fire Learning Network.