The Great Plains Fire Learning Network, Reconnecting People, Lands and Fire

The Fire Learning Network (FLN), a cooperative program of the Forest Service, Department of the Interior agencies—Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service—and The Nature Conservancy, supports public-private partnerships in landscapes that are engaged in collaborative planning and implementation, providing a means for sharing and vetting tools and innovations to help scale up fire restoration.  Among the 47 FLN landscapes now working to accelerate restoration at local, regional and national scales are the three focal landscapes of the Great Plains regional FLN: the Loess Hills (Iowa), Lower Loup River (Nebraska) and Refugio-Goliad Prairie (Texas). These landscapes provide leadership, share lessons learned, and maintain a link to the national FLN for other Great Plains landscapes, including the Prairie Coteau (South Dakota), Niobrara-Sandhills (Nebraska), and Southern Iowa. Together, we are working hard to advance lessons learned from mangers and private landowners and to apply them at a scale that will make a difference in the landscape. Strategies include supporting landowner burn associations, helping volunteer fire departments offer prescribed fire to their community members, creating mobile burn crews and offering prescribed fire training exchanges.

For years—and even today—we have struggled to get enough good fire on the ground. In some places we have been very successful (for example, in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma), but generally we are failing to apply enough fire across the vast extent of the fire-dependent plains, although the interest and desire is there. Having identified fire capacity as a limiting factor, the Great Plains FLN turned to the age-old ethos of neighbors helping neighbors, and worked with national FLN staff to develop live-fire, experiential training exchanges (TREX) to fill that gap. As a result, 56,000 acres have been treated with prescribed fire during TREX events since 2008. TREX also provide opportunities for wildland fire practitioners to work on their professional credentials, complete assignments in position task books and receive evaluations from qualified trainers. In addition, private land managers participate in the exchanges, enhancing their knowledge of fire management and contributing local knowledge to the larger fire community.

The program has grown over the years. We have intentionally burned across multiple land ownerships, and have thus connected properties and partners in ways that will build better and bigger units in the future. Crews likewise span agencies and geographies, building a more robust workforce with each event. Several training exchanges are planned for 2013 in the Iowa Loess Hills, central Nebraska and elsewhere.

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