Forty personnel plus 2,848 acres burned equaled a great 2017 Fire Training Exchange at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.

“The training was a huge success,” said Rich Walters, Director of Stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. “We always hope to provide the opportunity for fire workers to build new skills and to practice working successfully with teams. This year the weather mostly cooperated and we were able to get fire safely on the ground in units that will benefit from fire’s ecological impacts.”

Forty firefighters from California, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah and British Columbia assembled in Nebraska. “The Niobrara Valley Preserve has been an important base from which exchange programs have grown,” said Walters. “Folks who have met and trained in Nebraska have duplicated the event in South Africa and Spain.”

This program was designed to meet the training needs of fire practitioners – those who serve state and federal conservation agencies and fire departments, as well as private sector nonprofits, businesses, and landowners. It is also a way to bring much-needed fire to land that will benefit from it, like the Niobrara Valley Preserve. There was also an event in the Loup River area this year.

Large numbers of workers means a high level of vigilance in planning. Safety is paramount to the exchange’s leaders, who work under national standards. “We choose the safest time of year to hold this training. We anchor into previously burned areas, spend months working on burn plans, and relentlessly monitor weather reports. Local fire departments are involved in the permitting process and we were grateful that several local personnel joined the training this year,” said Walters.

Multiple private and public partners contributed resources for the exchange. They included: the Bureau of Land Management, Gering Fire Department, the Great Plains Fire Science Exchange, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, Nebraska Environmental Trust, the Nebraska Forest Service, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Niobrara Valley and the Nebraska Sandhills are a special place. There are few mixed-grass prairies left in the world as large and intact as the prairies found in Nebraska,” said Chad Bladow, Prescribed Fire Burn Boss from Indiana. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the conservation of such an amazing landscape.”