The Crispy Trees

gravel road near limestone cliffs
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NPS Photo/Adam Gericke

Area Description: When lightning strikes and sparks fly, one of the most formidable prairie phenomena begins. While appearing fearsome, fire is really a rejuvenating force. To name just a few of fire’s many beneficial qualities: more nutritious grass, healthier forests, more water soaking into our aquifer, and more diverse ecosystems.

Possible Animal Habitat:

Mammals Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Coyote, Mountain Lion, Hayden’s Shrew, Red Squirrel, Porcupine

Birds: Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Western Wood-peewee, American Crow, House Wren, Mountain Bluebird, American Robin, Yellow Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Lark Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch

Geology: The cliff is a wonderful example of the Minnelusa Formation. This formation consists of alternating bands of limestone, sandstone, and shale. It formed approximately 320 million years ago.

For Educators:

Thematic Information: When fire comes through and burns up the smaller trees in allows more sunlight into the understory which allows a greater diversity of plants to thrive. The remaining trees also have more sunlight and water leading to a healthier forest that is more robust and resistant to disease and insects. Close packed forests that have not burned in a long time are particularly vulnerable to the Pine beetle.

Recommended Student Activity:

Have students list the benefits of fire:

Returns nutrients to soil

Pushes back the forest and creates more prairie

Thins forest creating more space for the surviving trees

New, fresh grass is healthier for any grazers

Reduces fuel load so wildfires are less intense

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Last updated: September 22, 2016

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26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747


(605) 745-4600

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