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Title: Seasonality of acceptable prescribed fire operating conditions in the northern Great Plains

item YURKONIS, KATHRYN - University Of North Dakota
item DILLON, JOSEPHINE - University Of North Dakota
item MCGRANAHAN, DEVAN - North Dakota State University
item Toledo, David
item GOODWIN, BRETT - University Of North Dakota

Submitted to: Fire Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/27/2018
Publication Date: 3/25/2019
Citation: Yurkonis, K., Dillon, J., Mcgranahan, D., Toledo, D.N., Goodwin, B. 2019. Seasonality of acceptable prescribed fire operating conditions in the northern Great Plains. Fire Ecology. 15:7.

Interpretive Summary: Use of prescribed fire to manage grasslands is limited by local weather conditions. Changing climate in North Dakota could be affecting opportunities for use of prescribed fire. Our understanding of the time periods that are suitable for prescribed fire within the Northern Plains is lacking. We aimed to identify how the time that is suitable for burning during the spring and fall has shifted over the last decade. While the total number of days acceptable for burning has not changed over time, the number of days within the spring fire season (April) has decreased across the state. Results suggest that there is ample and more consistent opportunity for fall burning in the region. These results are useful for land managers and policy makers in making decisions for consistent fire management in the region.

Technical Abstract: While much is understood about grassland prescribed fire seasons for the central and southern plains of central North America, there has been relatively little investigation into conditions related to prescribed fire management within the northern Great Plains and how these conditions are changing over time. We collected data from Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) within the Grand Forks (n = 11) and Bismarck (n = 9) North Dakota National Weather Service Fire Weather Zones and asked how the prescribed fire seasons changed from 2003 to 2015. We performed a daily analysis for each station where a day was considered acceptable for prescribed fire if temperatures were between 2 °C and 43 °C, Relative Humidity (RH) was between 25% and 80%, and the sustained wind speed averaged between 1.79 ms-1 and 6.71 ms-1 for at least six contiguous precipitation-free hours from 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. While the total number of acceptable prescribed fire weather days did not change from early spring (March 21) to early fall (November 6), the opportunity for conducting spring prescribed fires declined and conducting late summer to early fall fires marginally increased over this time. The change in spring acceptability reflected an increase in the number of days with temperatures below the acceptable minimum and outside of the acceptable wind conditions to conduct operations. Results suggest that there is ample and more consistent opportunity for summer and fall burning in the region. Managers should consider the utility of using summer and fall prescribed fire to generate a more consistent fire management program in the region.