Fuel Treatments in South Dakota Reduce Wildfire Risk

By: Morgan Rubanow, Public Affairs Specialist with BLM Oregon/Washington

In South Dakota, two veteran wildfire mitigation crews are protecting local communities through targeted fuels reduction treatments. The veteran crews are funded through the Bureau of Land Management’s Community Assistance program and in cooperation with local wildfire partners. Many of these treatments have been funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), where the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management has invested around $1.9 million in South Dakota over the last two years to create more resilient landscapes. 

A man holding a chainsaw looks up at the trees in front of him.
Mike Zimny of the Rapid City Veteran Crew thins a dense forested area to promote a more natural forest structure. Photo by Morgan Rubanow, BLM.

The Meade County Veteran Crew was created in 2012 to support military personnel transitioning into civilian life. The program was so successful that the Rapid City Veteran Crew was created shortly after and is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The crews have hired and assisted close to 108 veterans since being established. These crews provide job opportunities for veterans while also connecting them with a mission to protect and serve.

A man uses a chainsaw to cut a downed tree in the woods.
Andrew Stanfield of the Rapid City Veteran Crew prepares a thinned tree for removal from the forest. Photo by Morgan Rubanow, BLM.

“Careers in fire are competitive, so I joined the crew to gain experience. I’ve learned about fuels treatments, wildfire suppression and fire behavior,” said Andrew Stanfield, a Rapid City Veteran Crew Firefighter. “I am grateful for the mentorship and leadership offered through this program.” 

“Transitioning out of the military and into the Rapid City Veteran Crew was great for me and my career as a firefighter,” said Brian Schearer, who now works for the Rapid City Fire Department. “I enjoyed being in the woods with other veterans while performing a physically demanding job and doing work that positively impacts my community.”  

A man chips branches and logs using a chipper machine.
Bill Cina of the Rapid City Veteran Crew places cut vegetation into a chipper. Photo by Morgan Rubanow, BLM.

The crews and many of their projects are supported by BIL funding and the BLM’s community assistance program. The day-to-day activities are overseen by staff from the Rapid City Fire Department and Meade County.  

BIL funding has helped double the BLM’s the average acreage of fuels treatments. Last year, 1.3 million acres of BLM-managed land was treated nationwide. One recent BIL-funded project involves ongoing prescribed burning in the BLM-managed Fort Meade Recreation Area. The Rapid City veteran crew participate in many of these prescribed burns to gain experience and training. These controlled burns promote healthy wildlife habitat and decrease wildfire risks for nearby residents, businesses, and Interstate 90. Additional projects include mechanical treatments and prescribed burns in other high wildfire risk areas. 

A dirt road cuts a straight line through the forest. On the right side of the road, burned vegetation can be seen. On the right side of the road the vegetation is not burned.
Fuels treatments within the burned area of the 2022 Shroeder Fire illustrate the importance of a maintained fuel break and how defensible space can help fight wildfires. Previous treatments performed by the veteran crew kept the wildfire from burning over the road into another forested area. Photo courtesy of the Rapid City Fire Department.

Learn more:

Meade County Veteran Crew: https://www.meadecounty.org/firewisevets  

Rapid City Veteran Crew: https://www.rcgov.org/departments/fire-department/fire-and-life-safety/veteran-wildfire-mitigation-crew-905.html 

BLM Community Assistance Program: https://www.nifc.gov/about-us/our-partners/blm/fuels/community-assistance  

BIL funding for wildland fire: https://www.doi.gov/priorities/investing-americas-infrastructure/wildland-fire  

BLM’s Fort Mead Recreation Area: https://www.blm.gov/visit/fort-meade-recreation-area  

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