Centuries ago, wildfires were a common feature on Nebraska’s landscape. Because fires were frequent, they remained low in intensity, burning up much of the forest debris and adjacent grasses. These “surface” fires played an important role in rejuvenating vegetation and left trees more resilient over time.
Today’s dispersing population has curbed how wildfires function in our landscape. More people are moving into rural, often forested areas, putting life and property in harm’s way when large wildland fires occur.
Warmer summers, shorter winters, and below-average precipitation have also increased the threat for large, dangerous fires. While it varies year to year, the average fire season in Nebraska is considered to be June — September.
With fire removed from the forest cycle, pine needles and cones, branches and dead leaves accumulate on the forest floor and become
highly flammable. Other woody forest fuels, such as small trees and branches on larger trees, create avenues for surface fires to reach
into the canopy of large trees and burn out of control.
All of these factors make the threat of catastrophic fire a real possibility in Nebraska.
WHAT CAN HOMEOWNERS DO?
Forest landowners can take steps to reduce forest fuel loads on their land, which creates an environment less prone to crown fires and rapid fire spread. Fuels treatment projects are conducted within overgrown forestland to remove ladder fuels and create space between the crowns of overstory trees. During fuels treatment projects, woody fuels are removed either mechanically or by hand. Leftover debris, also called slash, is typically scattered and left to decompose or piled for controlled burning or wildlife habitat. In some cases, slash can be chipped and used as fuel by wood energy systems.
COST-SHARE ASSISTANCE FROM NFS
The Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) has several types of cost-share assistance available to eligible forest landowners. Using state and federal funds, forest landowners can receive up to 75 percent cost-share assistance for approved fuels treatment projects. These programs are currently open to the Pine Ridge, Niobrara Valley, and other qualified forested areas.
Qualifying areas have a Community Wildfire Protection Plan that directs how a community addresses and reduces their wildland fire risk. The Loess Canyons, Missouri River Northeast, Niobrara Valley, Pine Ridge, and Wildcat Hills have such plans in place and are eligible to apply for fuels treatment grants.
In these areas, landowners can work with NFS foresters and local contractors to conduct fuels treatment projects. If the grant is funded, landowners can begin working with NFS foresters and local contractors to implement fuels treatment projects and receive cost-share assistance.
Forest Fuels Management Contacts
113 N Woodward St, STE A
Ainsworth, NE 69120
Upper Niobrara-White NRD
430 E. 2nd St.
Chadron, NE 69337-2433