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Casper – A rash of fires over the last weekend of July reminded many in Natrona County that fire season 2010 is upon us.
“We know there were five, and we think there were probably six,” says Natrona County Fire Chief Kevin Finn of the area’s fires, which were started by a passing storm cloud containing lightning on July 31. “One smoke column disappeared before anyone could find it, and two burned into one at one point.”
Two of the fires were large and easy to spot, burning west of Bar Nunn and north of Casper. Finn says the fleet of four fires in the Emigrant Gap/Poison Spider area west of town was more remote and harder to get to. 
“In Emigrant Gap, one side of the ridge you access from Poison Spider, and the other you access from Highway 20/26, and if you’re on the wrong side of the ridge, you’re hiking,” says Finn.
In addition to the July 31 fires, Finn says there had been another also started by lightning July 30 in the Bessemer Bend area. To date, most of the fires in Natrona County have been on private land, and state or BLM involvement has been minimal.
Looking into the future, Finn says the BLM is bringing in extra resources, pre-staging three additional engines and two aerial retardant single engine aircraft and a portable batch plant to mix slurry at the Casper airport.
“Our predictions are we’ll have a difficult season this year,” notes Finn. “We carried over a lot of dried grasses from last year, which has made a thick understory in addition to what we grew this year. There’s a lot of fuel out there, and we are getting dry. It’s starting to turn brown, and we’re anticipating an active season, although it’s hitting us a little later than normal. Fire season traditionally starts around July 4th.”
“Until we receive some moisture, we’ll have some difficult conditions,” he adds. “Between the grasshoppers and wildfires, hopefully we’ll still have some grass left for the ranchers.”
Finn says the grasshopper activity is amazing around the fires. “When we get around the fires, the grasshoppers tend to come out in the smoke columns, which is where we also tend to work. It’s like working in a wall of grasshoppers, with the way they move in front of the fires,” he says.
“The best advice is to report early,” says Finn of any fires spotted on the landscape. “If you see a smoke column, report it. The earlier we know about it, the better off we’ll be.”
He also adds that ranchers and farmers should make sure to clear the weeds from around their structures, creating defensible space. “The more they can give us, the better chance we’ll have of saving buildings, machinery and corrals,” says Finn. “That gives us the chance to get in there and keep the fire off.”
Finn says haystack fires like the one pictured at right are almost impossible to put out, because the fire gets down inside the stack seven to nine feet, and water only penetrates the top six inches. “You can’t get to the fire, short of tearing the stack apart, and then you end up with so much material spread out that if you miss one spark you’re back the next day,” he says.
He says the strategy on haystack fires is to move as much unaffected hay away from the fire as possible, then stand back and let it burn.
For more information about fire safety on rangelands and how to clear defensible space, visit Christy Hemken 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..

Moreland, Idaho – The Western Legacy Alliance (WLA) announced its kickoff late February bringing together like-minded individuals and organizations to advocate responsible and sustainable access to public lands in the West. The WLA campaign allows stakeholders to change gears from reactionary tactics to a proactive plan addressing public land issues.
    WLA says their public education strategy lays the groundwork to respond to radical opposition of Coalition goals and potentially neutralize future efforts. They work to increase community awareness of issues and activities that hurt Coalition members and initiate legislative or regulatory “fixes” to address frivolous challenges to permits held on public lands. They also work to ensure protection of private property rights guaranteed under the Constitution, and provide education initiatives to encourage youth interest in agricultural and resource jobs.
    While radical environmental groups pick up steam with the Obama administration and the rise of Democrats in Washington, this is a critical time for action, as many people expect laws and regulations to roll back to those of the Babbitt era.
    Jennifer Ellis, a third generation Idaho rancher and immediate past president of the Idaho Cattle Association, chairs WLA’s eight-member Board of Directors. “The extremist voice keeps repeating the same misinformation over and over – the misinformation that is detrimental instead of beneficial to public lands. It is time to unite a diverse bunch of people to get out an accurate message. We don’t want the new administration to have that misinformation first and foremost all the time,” Ellis remarks.
    “With the Obama administration’s appointments of Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior and Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture - who we hope will advocate for farmers, ranchers and rural communities - the climate is right for finding middle ground,” Ellis adds.
    The recent media attention given to canceled oil and gas leases near Utah parks, the reduction of AUMs and closure of select grazing allotments in several states, and escalating issues between agriculture and fringe environmentalists demonstrates the need for stakeholders to find workable solutions.
    The WLA says they are committed to protecting sustainable and responsible agriculture, as well as opportunities for sportsmen, oil and gas, forestry, mining, as well as recreation on public lands. They will also support the economies and families who depend on natural resources and working lands.
    Jeremy Drew, a Nevada sportsman quoted in a recent WLA news release, says, “The land use issues we deal with aren’t new, but they do call for new strategies.”
    One new strategy is a media campaign to get accurate information to elected officials and the public. WLA issues news releases on relevant subjects to the media and to groups with an interest or stake in public lands, such as sportsmen and hunting organizations, RV groups, and agriculture, oil and gas, mining and power companies. “Those news releases also go to the western caucus and western delegation, to get the facts out there and get those people talking,” adds Ellis. WLA recently came out in support of USDA’s Wildlife Services (WS), after a group of environmental organizations sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture to abolish WS to save animals and cut costs.
    “We are going to be a clearing house of science and information gathered amongst the ‘user groups,’ to not only talk to the media about our plight, but be a ‘knowledge base’ for the western states. Our goals and mission will never deviate from say, the Public Lands Council, cattle associations etc., just implementing the ‘info gathering’ at a different level,” says Ellis. “What it comes down to is we have every intention of being able to counter misinformation instantaneously because of our proximity.”
    WLA imparts that the future of agriculture and the rural west depends on engaging science, new systems and traditional practices to sustain and grow natural resource industries. By bringing attention to traditional industries and land use in the West, WLA says they will demonstrate how sustainable, responsible use of public lands benefit communities, the environment and the economy.
    WLA is a member-funded and member-driven, privately held limited liability company.
    Contributions to support the coalition’s work are welcome. Individuals or organizations that would like to be on WLA’s mailing list, join or support the coalition, or would like more information can call 208-206-7309 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. WLA is in the process of creating a website. The coalition does, however, have a presence on the popular networking site, Facebook, at
    Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association says, “We have tracked this effort from its beginning and commend their effort. We do not view it as an organization, but rather as an industry project. As such, we support it and will be forwarding financial support contributed by our members as it moves forward. I believe that it can complement the Public Lands Council efforts that began with the Ranching and Conservation Summit in Salt Lake (in late February).”
    Echo Renner is a Wyoming Livestock Roundup Field Editor and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..