National Fire Plan
Fuels Reduction Program
Cave NM, South Dakota
August 9, 2002
Since 1986, the ponderosa pine ecosystem of Jewel Cave National Monument has been managed with a combination of mechanical treatments and prescribed fire. The park, one of the jewels of the National Park system located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has 127.15 miles of underground caverns mapped. The cave is the primary attraction for visitors, but the ecosystem above the ground is very important. The true test of the effectiveness of the fire management strategies came to light during the Jasper Fire of 2000.
The fire started outside the park by a cigarette dropped on the forest floor. The fire spread rapidly, consuming 3,655 acres in the first three and a half hours. Strong winds, 7% relative humidity, dry fuels, and a history of fire suppression in the Black Hills were the ideal combination that created this intensely hot, fast-moving, wildfire.
The fire burned into the prescribed fire and mechanically
treated areas and quickly died down. After burning through these areas and
around structures at a less intense rate, with flame lengths as small as four
inches, the fire continued burning through untreated areas and gained momentum
once again. Those areas that were not previously treated experienced intense
tree mortality from crowning and torching. Yet, the previously treated areas
received very little mortality and look healthy today.
Park managers and fire management staff worked together to create an environment that could withstand a large wildland fire while also accomplishing resource objectives. They succeeded in the case of the Jasper Fire.