By Cathy Nelson
HOT SPRINGS – The Crowe Dam Habitat Improvement Project proposed by the U.S. Forest Service created opposing points of view when the project was presented to the Fall River County Commission on Thursday, Nov. 16 by District Forest Ranger Julie Wheeler. The crux of the plan is to use a prescribed fire as a vegetation management tool within the approximately 260 acres of the Crowe Dam Pasture on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.
Crowe Dam pasture is approximately five miles southeast of Provo or four miles west of Rumford. The purpose of this project is to enhance native vegetation composition while increasing habitat diversity for wildlife, especially to enhance and upgrade waterfowl habitat. Future actions could include haying and mowing and livestock grazing designated by the forest service.
Also, part of the project is the addition of two administrative, not open to public use, creek crossings upstream of Crowe Dam to improve access for current and future management actions. The drainages upstream of Crowe Dam within the U.S. Forest Service boundary create access issues for motorized vehicles.
An analysis of the project is being conducted, and a decision will be issued by December 2023. Implementation, if approved, will occur during Spring 2024.
Some of the commissioners said they are opposed to the prescribed burn. Commissioner Joe Falkenburg suggested the Forest Service should use grazing instead of burning for vegetation control.
Wheeler said the Forest Service would wait for the right conditions to burn.
“There is risk any time you put fire on the ground,” she said. “We put a lot of effort and take a lot of time. We have a specific burn plan for that specific area before we even strike a match. We have contingency resources that can help us control the fire.”
“You can come up with any contingency plan you want, but you don’t know.” Commissioner Les Cope said, “There’s so many better ways to do it than burning the grass.”
Commissioner Heath Greenough asked if the Forest Service does archeological research before burning. Wheeler said that SDSU researches and has resources to remove artifacts.
Next to speak was Susan Henderson, an Edgemont rancher.
“My first comment is that a fire could get away from us,” she said. She continued by telling about a past fire on her property that burned acres and was finally stopped when it came to the railroad. Her property butts up against two sides of the dam area.
“I am violently opposed to this project,” she said. She has a petition stating opposition to the prescribed burn and has talked to her neighbors. “I can’t find one person who is for this project,” she said. “They want to sign the petition.”
Henderson continued by saying that in case a fire gets out of hand, the only place to load water is in Edgemont, which is about 22 miles. “Why is this going to be allowed to jeopardize my ranch and everyone else’s ranch?” she asked. She also said that the goal to burn the crested wheat grass will not work because the grass will come back up the next spring.
State’s Attorney Lance Russell said there is a ‘reckless burning statute’ in South Dakota. The S.D. Codified Law 22-33-9.3 states, “Any person who intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, whether on his or her own property or another’s, and thereby recklessly: is guilty of reckless burning or exploding.”
The commissioners made a motion and approved sending a letter stating their opposition to a prescribed burn.