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Wind Cave holds prescribed burn next week

Michael Reid
Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave officials hope to burn about 1,000 acres near the visitor center and Elk Mountain campground.

The move is designed to reduce fuel buildup that, if left untreated, can lead to catastrophic wildfires.

The designated area for burn includes both dense and open ponderosa pine forest with a grass understory.

Prescribed fire boundary
Wind Cave National Park
Prescribed fire boundary

Tom Farrell, spokesperson with Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills, said fire helps restore the natural balance between the forest, prairie and cave.

Part of that balance involves providing more water for the cave.

"Trees suck up a lot of water, so the cave isn’t getting as much moisture as it used to," Farrell said. "One of our goals here is to keep the cave as natural as possible. So, we want to keep it in the same condition it was thousands and millions of years ago.”

If there are favorable conditions and the prescribed burn takes place, there could be heavy smoke along Highways 385 and 87.

Since 1972, segments of the park have been burned to simulate natural fires. Farrell said the park ideally holds prescribed burns every 12 to 15 years.

“We divided the park into various burn units. We try to burn a little bit every year to try to mimic that regime," Farrell said. "Unfortunately, due to various conditions—primarily weather and funding—we’re not able to keep up with that every year, but it’s something we strive for.”

Park officials hope to start the prescribed burn next week. Officials say if they don't have the right conditions, they'll postpone the burn.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.