Resiliency of native mixed-grass rangelands and crested wheatgrass pasture lands to spring wildfire.
Previous research has suggested that prescribed fire will become more necessary in the northern Great Plains of the United States as woody encroachment and invasive plant species cover increase. Prescribed fire will likely become a more frequent management strategy to mimic natural processes in grasslands-a combination of fire and grazing. However, the amount of research on fire is somewhat lacking since the 1980s, with few land managers and producers willing or able to use fire in the western half of the northern Great Plains. We evaluated the impact of a wildfire in northwest South Dakota on two ecological sites (sandy and shallow sandy) and two vegetation types (native rangelands and crested wheatgrass pasture lands) to gain more insights into potential fire effects by comparing burned with adjacent nonburned sites, as well as comparing sites 5 yr prefire and 4 and 16 mo post fire. We collected data on plant species composition, bare ground, and biomass production. We did not detect any negative effects to the overall plant community, but crested wheatgrass did increase on some burned sites 16 mo post fire. The most prominent difference between burned and nonburned sites was the increase in bare ground and reduced basal litter on burned sites, but these changes were undetectable 16 mo after fire. Our results suggest mixed-grass prairies in the northern Great Plains are resilient to fire, and prescribed fire could be an appropriate management strategy when applied at the correct spatial-temporal scale and fire prescription. When specific management strategies, like fire, are perceived as negative, research has the potential to overcome perception and provide more context for land managers and producers on the conditions that affect management strategies.