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Natural Resources

On April 11, the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) hosted a webinar discussion on the use of prescribed fire on private land.

Featuring five panelists from throughout the western region, the webinar allowed attendees to learn about specific examples of fire control programs, as well as the successes and challenges faced by each panelist.

From northern Montana, retired District Fire Management Officer of the Rexford Ranger District in Kootenai National Forest, Ron Visdeck discussed his program, in addition to considerations and strategies for private landowners to use in a prescribed fire program.

History

Most of Visdeck’s early experience with prescribed burning treatments was burning clear cuts and regeneration cuts, which provided invaluable insight regarding the benefits of prescribed burning.

“We had a big mountain pine beetle outbreak in the 70s and 80s, so we tried to salvage as much of the lodgepole pine as we could. We were burning 80 to 100 cuttings per year,” he noted

The burning program in his area began in the 1970s with a focus on improving big game habitat, rather than fire control and hazard reduction.

“Most of the burning was done away from the homes and the valleys. We learned a lot and saw that it did a lot of good,” continued Visdeck. “We actually started treating more stands in the valley bottom closer to homes.”

His team began underburning in the valley bottom in 1984, and the program has continued and expanded in recent years.

Because of the approximately 50-year duration of the program, the benefits of long-term control are now evident, he said.

“Some places are on their second or third burn, which is much easier because it’s a lot more open,” commented Visdeck.

Hurdles

“Of course, everybody has hurdles when they first get started with a program, but public perception was a big one for our program,” said Visdeck.

He noted that there was a lot of public concern with safety for wildlife that had to be addressed.

“Smoke was another big concern,” he continued. “When we burn the valley bottom near homes, there’s residual smoke.”

Concerns about air quality made cooperation with various agencies imperative.

Another concern from the public was scorched trees and mortality, Visdeck explained.

“Living in a logging community, anytime a tree is killed, that’s a tree that can’t be used in the lumber mill,” he said.

Successes

Since the program’s inception, it has also seen numerous successes, Visdeck explained, using the example of two large fires in 1994 and 2005.

“In 1994, we had one fire burn a stand that we had treated, and our treatment probably saved half a dozen homes,” he commented.

He continued, “In 2005, we had a fire come across a stand that we had treated, and it slowed the fire down and allowed us to catch it, saving the nearby town.”

However, as impressive as the large fires were, Visdeck noted that the greatest successes are smaller fires that never grew and were easy to control because of prescribed fire treatments.

Considerations

According to Visdeck, one of the largest concerns for landowners and agencies alike when considering prescribed fire treatments is the risk of escape.

“We don’t want to have a fire escape. It could be pretty catastrophic and also hurt a program’s support, too,” he said.

Visdeck continued, “Anytime we do any kind of burning, it’s going to be costly, especially when we’re trying to make sure that it doesn’t escape. Cost is a big consideration.”

In Montana and other states, finding the expertise to perform prescribed fire treatments on land may present a challenge for private landowners.

“We can always find people to do thinning, piling and maybe burning the piles, but not many people will actually do the under-burning,” Visdeck noted. “That is a challenge to consider before starting a treatment program.”

Solutions

Good planning is critical for prescribed fire program success, stressed Visdeck.

“We need to plan ahead of time for success and make sure we have our ducks lined up,” said Visdeck.

As an example, he noted that it is important to not use property lines as control boundaries but rather to ensure that there are defendable boundaries used in the plan.

“Whether we burn private land or state ground, as long as we have a good defendable boundary, such as road, that always helps,” he continued.

Doing pre-burn preparation to thin out some of the excess fuel also makes the burning treatment much easier, he explained.

Visdeck strongly encouraged landowners to visit with fire experts, such as Forest Service employees or the county fire department in their area, to gain insight on local considerations.

“There are people out there who know about weather and fuel issues and who have been dealing with them for a long time,” he concluded. “Most of those folks are good people who are willing to talk and help.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During the Wyoming Natural Resources Rendezvous in Casper in early December, the Wyoming Board of Agriculture, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and Wyoming Wildlife Foundation applauded four landowners around the state of Wyoming for their dedication providing access to or through their lands for hunters and anglers. 

“We are blessed to live in a state with such amazing wildlife resources,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Commission President Keith Culver. “Ag is the key that makes this all work by providing access to open spaces to utilize that resource.” 

Landowners are recognized from across the state each year for providing access and are presented with a $2,000 check. 

Southwest

Representing the southwest corner of the state, Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) Andy Henchman recognized the Faddis Ranch, which sits northeast of Evanston.

“Their ranch adjoins public lands,” Henchman said. “Last year, they issued 630 permission slips on the Medicine Butte Hunter Management Area.” 

Through this action, the Faddis family provides access to approximately 3,300 private and public acres. 

“The Faddis family has been active in the access program for 15 years,” Henchman said. “They stand out as people who are trying to make a difference.”  

Northwest

Fourth-generation farmers Fred and Carrie Hopkin were also recognized for providing access to their property near the Shoshone River south of Byron. The 5,500 acres of the farm provide wildlife habitat, and nearly 3,500 acres of the property is enrolled in walk-in hunting and fishing programs. 

“The farm provides year-round use for hunting and fishing recreation to sportsmen and sportswomen,” WGFD says. “They have always been a friend and advocate to Wyoming and its wildlife.”

Northeast

John and Vanessa Buyok of Buyok Ranch north of Sheridan were recognized for their willingness to allow access for hunting of a wide variety of game species, birds, predators and prairie dogs. 

The family has also enrolled 800 acres of their ranch in the Access Yes Walk-In hunting program, and they have placed a conservation easement on their property to protect their land from development. 

“The Buyoks have a positive attitude towards sportsmen and wildlife,” said WGFD.

Southeast

Farthing Ranch, which sits in the Laramie range, includes more than 50,000 acres managed by Charlie and Carol Farthing. 

Jason Triplett of WGFD noted, while the family is not a member of formal access programs, they have actively facilitated hunter access on their land for many years, including the Iron Mountain Hunt Management Area. 

“The Farthings remain a willing cooperator even after their neighbors were no longer involved,” Triplett said. 

The property is the core of Antelope Hunt Area 38, and they welcome 50 Elk Hunt Area 6 hunters annually on a first-call, first-hunt basis. 

“Additionally, they have welcomed WGFD Hunt Management Coordinators during the past few years when the program has been available to help supplement elk harvest activities in the area,” he added. 

Wyoming Game and Fish Project Coordinator Mark Nelson said the Access Recognition Program is a way to show appreciation for landowners who allow sportsmen and women on their property to hunt or fish. 
“We extend a hearty thank you to these landowners. Thanks to them, there are more places for individuals and families to get outside to enjoy wildlife and hunt and fish in Wyoming, in addition to helping WGFD manage the state’s wildlife resources,” Nelson said.

This article was compiled by Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this information from the Landowner Access Awards Presentation and press releases from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Afton – Forest health and the disposition of the timber industry in Wyoming are two topics that have occupied much of the time of Josh Van Vlack, Wyoming State Forestry’s new assistant state forester for forest management.

Van Vlack comments that the Governor’s Forest Health Task Force has also been at the top of the list of items that have impacted the division in 2015.

Pine beetles

“Forest health is always a big concern in the state, especially with the mountain pine beetle epidemic,” Van Vlack says. “We continue to see a downturn in mountain pine beetle activity, the Black Hills being the exception.”

Aerial photography has shown that treatments put in place in Wyoming have been effective, and a clear line of green, healthy forest can be seen on the Wyoming-South Dakota border.

“The cut-and-chunk and spotting programs have been quite effective,” he continues.

“Along those lines, $1 million of the mountain pine beetle grant funding approved by the legislature in 2014 has been expended,” Van Vlack says. “Those projects were in Crook, Laramie, Johnson and Carbon counties.”

With a number of projects complete, $400,000 was awarded for Campbell, Converse and Crook counties and the Medicine Bow Conservation District in a second round of funding in 2015.

A third and final round of grant funding was opened, and Van Vlack notes that the entirety of the appropriation will be spent in that funding cycle, unless the legislature renews those dollars in the upcoming budget session.

The majority of beetle kill work has been focused on forest products.

“We are trying to get as much of that wood for the mills as possible,” he says. “Given the state of our forests in the state and region, not all of the wood is sent to a sawmill. Sometimes we do have to resort to just disposing of it to reduce fuel loading.”

Timber industry

With a focus on timber management, particularly in southeast Wyoming, Van Vlack notes, “The timber industry continues to be highly unstable.”

“We’ve seen three of the facilities close, citing lack of supply,” he says.

Wyoming State Forestry’s contract forester position, which was a cooperative initiative approved by the legislature, has improved accessibility to timber, however, and Van Vlack comments, “That position is making great progress. They have been putting out a lot of timber, helping feed the mills and getting new management started on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land that has been absent for several years.”

The position was formed as a temporary, two year, cooperative initiative with BLM. However, Van Vlack notes Wyoming State Forestry is seeking to extend it an additional two years.

“The Forest Service has offered to match half of that employee’s salary and include some Forest Service land in potential management,” he says. “That has the potential to expand the scale and scope of the projects and continue to supply good volume to the mill in Saratoga.”

The first year of the program netted nearly 1 million board-feet of timber sold. Calendar year 2015 is expected to net an additional 4 million board-feet, and an average of 2 million board-feet of timber are projected moving into the future.

Only five medium to large sawmills in the state are currently operating, Van Vlack says, noting, “At the peak, we had close to 190 facilities in the 1970s. We’ve consistently seen consolidation of many facilities.”

Forest Health Task Force

With the completion of a report from the Governor’s Forest Health Task Force, Carson Engelskirger, outreach coordinator for Wyoming State Forestry, was hired to address the recommendations of the Task Force.

“There were 12 recommendations with 53 sub-recommendations,” Engelskirger says. “We are in the process of going through and evaluating recommendations to find the low hanging fruit to address to improve Wyoming’s forests.”

Engelskirger notes that he has begun to work with stakeholders in several capacities.

“I’m working with stakeholders to help the Wyoming Water Development Commission on watershed assessments on the effects of catastrophic wildfires, specifically in the Buffalo and Cheyenne areas,” he explains. “Denver is still seeing the effects of what happens when fire comes through on a municipal water supply, and we are trying to see what we can do with Forest Service to address that.”

Engelskirger also mentioned that other initiatives identified include invasive species and the prevention of their spread through the “Play, Clean, Go” program, as well as interest in biomass.

“The Governor and his office are moving forward on recommendations for funding this coming year,” he adds.

Van Vlack and Engelskirger addressed the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee in Afton in mid-September.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Defining a “normal” fire season has been impossible for the last dozen years, says Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser.

“It is hard to talk about a ‘normal’ fire season because I don’t think we’ve had one,” Crapser says. “Going back, 2012 was a record fire season in the state, 2013 was a fairly light season, and 2014 was a very light season. 2015 was a light season, but we had quite a bit of activity in the state, especially in September and October.”

He adds, “That is a later fire season than we normally see.”

In Wyoming, Crapser comments that nine Emergency Fire Suppression Account fires were seen this year. Those fires that tap into the fund are typically the larger fires.

2015 season

“This year was a wet season until September,” he explains. “Then, in Cheyenne, we had the hottest September on record. For that time of year, it was hot and dry.”

“It was more active than many people thought,” he adds of the overall season. “We had a lot of initial attacks.”

A number of counties in the state and the Wyoming State Helitack crew stayed busy with small fires and initial attacks, which is important in avoiding larger fires, Crapser says.

“We were able to get on these fires and get them out quickly,” he continues. “That is important to remember.”

Initial attacks

Because of the importance of the initial fire attack, Crapser notes that Wyoming State Forestry’s Fire Division strives to maintain a 98 percent success rate on initial attack, a standard that they met in 2015.

“Even in 2012, with all the large fires, the wildland fire service across the state still achieved about 98 percent success on initial attack,” Crapser comments. “That is the standard we try to get.”

By maintaining high initial attack rate success, Crapser notes that Wyoming State Forestry is more able to avoid large fires.

“Some years – and 2012 was one of those years – we have fires that go from little to big really fast,” he says.

Crapser notes that this year, Wyoming State Forestry’s fire crews were largely deployed around the region, particularly in the Northwest.

“We had a whole lot of people deployed out of the state and helping people out of other states,” he says.

Other activities

Aside from fighting fires, Crapser also notes that Wyoming State Forestry has invested their resources in continued training.

“We are working really closely with the counties on fire training,” he says. “We try to expand every year and have more training.”

“We also do a lot of fuels work around the state through State Forestry,” Crapser notes. “We normally get around $1 million each year of federal money for fuels treatment. We are able to do defensible space work and FireWise work.”

Helitack team

In addition, the Wyoming State Helitack team has matured, according to Crapser.

“We have our helitack team available to assist on any fires that start,” he explains. “They help with initial attack on those fires.”

The helicopter associated with the team is under contract for 105 days each year, and a team of individuals is assigned to the Helictack unit.

“We have a seasonal fire crew that goes with the helicopter for the initial attack,” Crapser says. “We’ve been able to develop and integrate, so we now have Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management with our state employees.”

“We truly have an interagency helitack system, which is fairly unique,” he emphasizes. “We are able to mix federal and state employees on the same fire crew, which leverages our man power.”

The resulting effort provides a fully staffed crew that is capable of responding quickly at all times.

Looking into the next few years, Crapser comments, “As with most state agencies, we are nervous about the budget situation, but overall, things are going well.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..