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Prior Lake, MN – The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community conducts prescribed burns on reservation lands each fall and spring as a prairie management tool. Burns are conducted before the snow falls, but after foliage has started to become dormant to help manage invasive species and replicate natural conditions to encourage native species growth. A secondary benefit is to help prevent uncontrolled fires which can damage homes and businesses.
“Fire suppression activities impact areas that would burn naturally if not for intervention by man. Many people today think fire is bad because homes and business are built in areas that would burn naturally. For the tribe, prescribed burns are more in line with how nature takes care of the land,” said SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig.
A prescribed burn is an intentionally lit, low intensity fire used by land managers to replicate natural fires. Fuel reduction is one component of prescribed fire to reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires but the SMSC mostly burns for the ecological significance to our prairie restorations. Prescribed burns benefit natural communities by removing dead biomass, adding nutrients to the soil, releasing native seed banks, and killing non-native species. A benefit of prescribed burns is that they replicate natural processes which help some prairie species which need the high temperatures that only a fire can provide. This helps rejuvenate native prairie grasses and forbs which have evolved with frequent fire.
Prescribed burns for approximately 17 acres in several locations both on and off the reservation are planned for this fall, though they are entirely dependent upon weather conditions. This fall the SMSC plans to burn several parcels between mid-October and mid-November.
The SMSC conducts prescribed burns off-reservation in certain circumstances. For several years the SMSC has management authority over the burial mounds at Shakopee Memorial Park and conducts burns there as needed. At the request the City of Prior Lake, SMSC crews burn areas of Lakefront Park. In the past, the SMSC assisted with a wildland fire in Shakopee at Dean’s Lake.
This fall, weather conditions permitting, four areas have been selected for prescribed burns:
- Oak savanna restoration at Shakopee Memorial Park, about four acres.
- Oak savanna and wetland restoration at Lakefront Park in Prior Lake, about five acres.
- Prairie restoration five acre parcel west of the SMSC Wacipi Grounds on Dakotah Parkway.
-Two prairie restoration sites slated for biomass production totaling three acres north of County Road 16.
Staff from SMSC Land and Natural Resources and Mdewakanton Emergency Service trained in wildland firefighting conduct the burns along with staff from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Prescribed burns have to meet specific weather requirements. Relative humidity, temperature, and wind speed and direction are considered among others. The fire will not be lit if any requirement exceeds plan limits.
In a natural setting, a low intensity fire would burn prairies and prairie/wetland complexes on a three to five year cycle and sometimes annually. Fire prevention and suppression activities in today’s world leave most natural areas overgrown and susceptible to being invaded by non-native or invasive species.
SMSC Land and Mdewakanton Emergency Services staff have conducted prescribed burns on tribal lands since 2004. SMSC staff may also assist other tribes in the region with prescribed burns as well as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service conduct prescribed burns as they have done in years past.
As a steward of the land, the SMSC engages in a number of activities to preserve and protect the land for future generations. For more information, visit www.shakopeedakota.org.