Abstract - Grassland Habitat Management Using Prescribed Burning in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Forde, Jon D., Sloan, Norman F. and Shown, Douglas A. 1984. Grassland Habitat Management Using Prescribed Burning in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. The Prairie Naturalist 16. pp. 97-110.


Fire is one of the natural forces under which grasslands in Wind Cave National Park (WCNP) evolved (Gartner 1975, 1977; Gartner et al. 1978). Periodic natural fires maintained the vegetation in an early successional stage of development and were important in determining the location of the prairie-forest border. With the feeling that fire is man's enemy and the resulting sophisticated fire fighting equipment and techniques that have been developed, natural fires have soon been suppressed. This has enabled areas of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) to expand throughout the Black Hills of South Dakota, decreasing the area of mixed-grass prairie. Vegetative fuels have sometimes increased to dangerous levels as a result. In order to alleviate these problems, efforts have been made by the Park to restore fire as a natural part of the ecosystem. The primary fire management goals of the Park include: 1) reduction of ponderosa pine encroachment, 2) reduction of excessive vegetative fuels, and 3) propagation of native shrubs, forbs, and grasses and the removal of exotic plant species (Lovass 1976).

In September 1973, personnel of Wind Cave National Park began conducting annual burns. Several studies on the effects of fire in the Black Hills have since been conducted. Early studies emphasized responses of prairie and forest vegetation to prescribed burning. To complete our understanding of fire's role, information was needed regarding effects of fire on bird and mammal communities within grasslands of the Park. That led to a four-year (1980-83) investigation on fire ecology and fire's effect on the vertebrates of the Park and their food supply.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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