South Dakota politicians covet Forest Service land in Black Hills

The four highest ranking politicians in South Dakota are backing legislation that would require the U.S. Forest Service to turn over two of the most beautiful areas of the Black Hills National Forest to the state. In exchange for approximately 2,000 acres, the USFS would receive an equal number of acres from four parcels in three counties scattered around the state. The size of the parcels could be adjusted based on an appraised value.

Pushing the land grab are Governor Dennis Daugaard, Senator John Thune, Senator Mike Rounds, and Representative Kristi Noem. The Senators have co-sponsored a bill in the Senate and Representative Noem has introduced similar legislation in the House.

The South Dakota politicians are trying to take from the federal government two of the crown jewels of the Black Hills National Forest — Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake.

Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon, Google Street View

The state wants 1,468 acres in Spearfish Canyon. The road through the canyon, framed by towering 1,000-foot limestone canyon walls, is officially designated as a Scenic Byway. South of the city of Spearfish, it attracts large numbers of visitors to see the fall colors when the aspen turn brilliant yellow in September. One of the best known features is Bridal Veil Falls that cascades down a sheer 60-foot cliff alongside the road as it feeds the creeks that run through the canyon. Hikers enjoy the many trails that meander through the area. Fly fishermen take advantage of the incredibly scenic pools and rapids along the creek.

Bridal Veil Falls Spearfish Canyon
Bridal Veil Falls. Google Street View.

The second crown jewel the state wants to take from the federal government is 524 acres east of Custer, including Bismarck Lake. With the nearby campground, it is set amidst a scattering of aspen groves and Ponderosa pine at 5,000 feet. The lake supports populations of rainbow and brown trout, a variety of sunfish, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and catfish. At the campground, a short foot trail traverses the forested shoreline, offering opportunities for birding in early morning or picnicking in the afternoon.

Bismark Lake
Bismarck Lake, east of Custer, SD. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Bismark Lake
Bismarck Lake. Photo by Peg Sperlich.

The parcels of land the four politicians want to trade for these crown jewels are in the counties of Lyman, Pennington, and Lawrence.

Lyman County
Central Lyman County. Google Street View.

We don’t know exactly where in those counties the land is that the politicians want to trade for the USFS land, but the photo above is a typical scene in central Lyman County in the middle of the state, more than 150 miles east of the Black Hills National Forest.

If the land grab occurs, the state would use Spearfish Canyon to expand its Roughlock Falls Nature Area and designate it as a state park. The 640 acres around Bismarck Lake would be added to Custer State Park.

In written testimony during a Senate hearing last week about the bill, the USFS opposed the transfer of land. Leslie Weldon, the Forest Service’s deputy chief of the National Forest System, wrote, “the bill is unnecessary and contains provisions that raise concerns.”

Below is an excerpt from an article at NewsCenter1:

“Normally in a land exchange process, just like in a real estate transaction, you have a willing buyer, a willing seller, or at least two willing parties, and you have a mutually beneficial agreement,” said Mark Van Every, forest supervisor for the Black Hills National Forest. “And in this particular case, we don’t believe that this land exchange is mutually beneficial.”

Van Every said the Forest Service has invested heavily in both the Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake areas, from campgrounds to trails and more. In addition to that predicted revenue loss, he said the Forest Service was not consulted on the bill.

Geese at Bismarck Lake
Geese on Bismarck Lake. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

“The state of South Dakota has proven time and again that it can preserve and protect South Dakota’s natural resources while providing unparalleled outdoor experiences that attract people from across the state and nation,” said Senator Thune. “I’m confident this track record will lend itself to creating similar opportunities in the Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake areas once this land exchange is completed.”

Senator John Thune and Representative Kristi Noem are up for reelection in November.

Senator wants to require more steps before beginning a prescribed fire

Senator John Thune has been critical of federal firefighters previously.

A U.S. Senator has proposed an amendment to introduced legislation that would require additional procedures before federal agencies could conduct a prescribed fire. Senator John Thune from South Dakota wants to require consultation with local and state fire officials before the project begins. One of his reasons is that he contends local and state officials know more than the federal professional prescribed fire managers.

“Local officials are going to know a little bit more about what the conditions are in the area”, Senator Thune said in a newsletter distributed by his office on September 15.

This requirement has been offered as an amendment to a Republican backed bill introduced by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas June 22, 2016, titled S.3085 – Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016. Senator Thune contends that the amendment was adopted by unanimous consent during a Senate Agriculture Committee markup, but no official action after the introduction is showing up at bill-tracking websites. After three months the bill has no cosponsors, and GovTrack.us predicts a 2 percent chance of it being enacted.

The primary purpose of the bill is to eliminate some environment restrictions for planned “forest management activities”. The list of these activities is long and vague enough to cover a very wide range of land treatments, including timber harvesting.

Senator Thune advocated his consultation procedure before when he introduced a stand-alone bill in 2015. It had one cosponsor and never advanced beyond being introduced. Apparently the powerful Senator did not work hard to promote his idea, or perhaps he only wanted some publicity. 

Senator Thune has generated publicity before in matters regarding prescribed fire. In 2015 he distributed to the media a strongly-worded very critical letter he sent to the Secretary of the Interior after the Cold Brook prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota escaped, burning an additional 5,420 acres of prairie. It never spread beyond the park boundaries.

Four days after the escape and months before the official report came out, the Senator was apparently very satisfied that he knew exactly the cause, writing to the Secretary, “The Cold Brook Fire could easily have been prevented”, and “the intense smoke will likely damage the lungs of young calves in the vicinity resulting in high risk of pneumonia and death loss.”

Ready. Fire. Aim.

Cold Brook Fire
Highway 385, which can be seen in the distance, was supposed to be the boundary of the Cold Brook prescribed fire. Only the land on the far side of the highway was intended to burn. Photo taken a few days after the fire by Bill Gabbert.
Wind Cave prescribed fire
Photo taken of the area where the Cold Brook prescribed fire crossed US Highway 385, taken 39 days after the fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The escaped fire was in grass and ground fuels beneath scattered trees that had been treated with prescribed fire before, and there was no significant crowning. It was basically over after one afternoon, but that didn’t stop Senator Thune from prognosticating about the lung condition of calves outside the park.

Maitland Fire, South Dakota

Above: dozens of large hay bales were destroyed in the Maitland Fire on August 23, 2016.

The Maitland Fire burned 34 acres of ranch land on August 23, 2016, 12 air miles south of Hot Springs, South Dakota. There was no damage to structures, but there was the temporary loss of grazing acreage, dozens of large hay bales, and possibly some fences.

In the video below the smoke patterns generated by burning objects on the ground are interesting.

Maitland Fire
Oelrichs Fire Department.

Maitland Fire

Maitland Fire

Continue reading “Maitland Fire, South Dakota”

Moderate weather and air tankers slow the Indian Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota

Above: The north side of the Indian Canyon Fire along the Cheyenne River late in the evening of July 17.

(UPDATED at 7 p.m. MDT July 18, 2016)

Around noon on Monday we visited the west side of the Indian Canyon Fire south of Edgemont, South Dakota. It was very quiet. Not much was going on at the airport, the incident command post, or along Highway 471. We only saw one location that was putting up much smoke and it was on the north side in some cottonwood trees near the Cheyenne River. That area probably has logs and dead trees that could smoulder for days.

Art Prints

The order for the Type 1 Incident Management Team was cancelled. The latest size estimate for the fire is 13,500 acres. At 9 a.m. today the incident management team reported there was zero containment on the fire. Then at 4:06 p.m. that increased to 60 percent. This just illustrates that containment numbers are meaningless most of the time and is the reason why we rarely regurgitate that statistic.

The six photos in the next gallery were taken around noon on Monday. Scroll down to see two other galleries. Click on a photo to see a larger version, then click on the arrows to view more.

****

(UPDATED at 10:28 a.m. MDT July 18, 2016)

Monday morning the Great Plains Fire Information office reported there had been “heavy rain” on the Indian Canyon Fire in South Dakota. When I left the Edgemont area at 7:30 Sunday night a thunderstorm was moving in and light rain was falling. Two rain gauges that are near the fire but not within the perimeter recorded 0.03″ and 0.07″ overnight.

The heat-sensing satellite did not detect any large heat sources Sunday night on the fire. That does not mean it is out. The sensors, about 200 miles overhead, can only “see” large concentrations of heat. And the grass, which comprises most of the vegetation in the fire area, can burn and then cool before the next satellite overpass.

The behavior of the fire on Sunday was affected by the moderate weather conditions — temperature around 80, relative humidity in the 30’s, and an 8 mph east wind. The forecast for the fire area on Monday predicts 96 degrees, southwest winds of 14 to 18 gusting in the mid-20’s, and 30 percent relative humidity. These conditions could dry much of the Sunday night rainfall.

Another factor slowing the fire was the use of air tankers, helping to keep the fire out of Edgemont. In addition to a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, seven other air tankers were used on the fire Sunday — four Single Engine Air Tankers and three large air tankers, T-02 and T41 (both BAe-146’s), and T-45 (a P2V). In addition, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters worked on the fire Sunday.

The photos in the gallery below were shot around 7 p.m. MDT Sunday night. To see larger versions, click on one, then click the arrows to see more.

This was the first time that a Very Large Air Tanker has dropped retardant in the state of South Dakota. It carries 11,600 gallons, far more than any other air tanker currently certified in North America. The other Large Air Tankers hold between 2,000 and 4,500 gallons. Global Supertanker has a 747 Very Large Air Tanker with a 19,600-gallon capacity working its way through the FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board approval process.

Continue reading “Moderate weather and air tankers slow the Indian Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota”

Fire on “M Hill” in Rapid City, South Dakota

(First published at 6:42 a.m. MDT July 14, 2016. Updated at 6:44 p.m. July 14 [added the first two photos].)

A fire in Rapid City, South Dakota that started at 7:25 p.m. on Wednesday burned 13 acres on “M Hill”, a very popular hiking area. A benefactor, Edna Marie “Eddie” Larson, created a trust to fund the construction and maintenance of a 20-mile hiking trail system in the 300-acre Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park.

M Hill Fire
M Hill Fire by Kalisha June
M Hill Fire
M Hill Fire by Kalisha June

M HIll Fire vicinity map
M HIll Fire vicinity map

When a wildfire occurs in the middle of an urban area there are many people reporting on it:

M Hill
This is a 3-D image of “M Hill” from Google Earth, without the fire of course.
M Hill letters
A close-up of the letters on “M Hill” — hence the name.