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The Long Goodbye


Posted on July 7, 2014 by Sarah O'Shea '11, animal biotechnology and conservation.

Courtesy: Sarah O'Shea '11 A prescribed burn.

I have adjusted my eyes for the past six months to view the world in browns, yellows and whites. I extended this view by moving west for the spring and now, as my last day arrives a new color is starting to emerge. A color that I had long forgotten about and was sure I would never see again, green. A favorite color of mine yes, but we departed ways for the past couple of months and now my mind struggles to piece the environment back together. Lime green treetops mirror the pattern of the river, the hillsides have now taken on the color green. Flowers blossom giving even more color to the earth than before. Bison can be found munching on the greenest grass and the baby calves are getting their first taste of the "good stuff."

One of the coolest fires we did was right here on the ranch. Earlier that day we had tried to burn at Davis Ranch, but the winds weren't quite right and we popped a tire in one of our UTVs. Because of this, we drove all the back to Cross Ranch and here we had east winds, which was good because then no smoke would get dumped on the highway. We burned the CR-Heart Unit around 5:30 p.m., which was 230 acres, numerous coolies (drainages) and Buffalo Berry, which we had to back fire through or else we could get 20-30 foot flame lengths. 

Needless to say, the fire went into the night. Normally, we do not burn into the night, but this one ran late. It was 8:30 p.m. and we still had live fire on the ground, giving off smoke and now the smoke wasn't lifting off the line, it was hanging in the valley. So our next move of action was to start putting out the fire. It was a lot of fun putting out the fire, just as much fun as lighting fires. I drove one of the UTVs into the interior of the unit with my boss and attacked the fire.

Burning early in the season allowed for better (more fuel/grass being burned off) burning because the grass has not greened up yet. Once it is green it is harder for flame to travel across it. We also burn off cool season grasses, allowing the spring/summer grasses to grow better. We also burn to manipulate cattle grazing and to provide better habitat for grassland birds. 

In about six burns we managed to burn over 800 acres, which was pretty good considering the rest of the season we got skunked with weather. There were moments on the fire line where I was engulfed in so much smoke that I had tears running down my checks, snot pouring out of my nose and I could barely see a foot in front of me.

Once again The Nature Conservancy proves to be an amazing employer, one I never thought I’d have the chance to work for while earning my degree in Animal Biotechnology and Conservation at DelVal. I love working for them and hope to continue this trend. I am sad to have left North Dakota, but my next journey awaits me. 

Until I write again,