The district is engaged in restoring ecosystem services and repairing critical infrastructure, while working with hunters and livestock grazing permit holders to allow for the natural recovery of grasslands and wildlife habitat.
“We are aiming at a balance of work that both restores the land and ecosystems, while doing what we can to help the user groups that were also affected by these fires,” said Ashland District Ranger Walt Allen.
The district is about 436,000 acres, and last year more than a third of it, roughly 155,000 acres, burned as a result of lightning-caused wildfires.
The Ash Creek Fire, which started on June 25 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and grew into the state’s largest recorded wildfire, burned more than 87,000 acres of National Forest System lands before it was suppressed.
The Taylor Creek Fire started several days later and burned more than 60,000 acres, including one home and several outbuildings.
A third, the Dutch Fire, a short while later burned more than 19,000 acres.
The district is considered one of the largest grazing districts in the National Forest System, with more than 18,000 head of cattle permitted on an annual basis. The district is also a destination for hunting of turkey, mule deer, and elk.
There are no road closures in effect, but the district urges the public to use caution when accessing the forest.
Roads may be wetter and muddier than normal due to reduced vegetation cover. Burned trees are also expected to fall, especially during periods of high wind. Some roads may be temporarily blocked by down trees.
Crews from the Forest Service, BLM, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe are clearing hazard trees along close to 50 miles of road. Work will continue throughout the year.
Ranching is impacted by the fires, too. Grazing deferments have been issued through mid-summer to allow for recovery of ground vegetation. Around 115 miles of interior fence was also lost.
The district has awarded a contract to reconstruct more than 500 burned fence braces to help reestablish some of the rotation grazing pasture fences; however, with limited budgets this may be a multi-year process for total repair of all fences.
The district has also been working closely with the National Weather Service, and local emergency groups, to prepare for large debris overland flow events. Contracts for culvert replacement are targeted at areas where main roads could flood.
Additionally, the district is planting more than 100,000 hardwood seedlings in narrow, woody draws to restore essential wildlife habitat.
The Custer National Forest thanks the public for its patience and cooperation as restoration and recovery efforts proceed.
For more information about post-fire recovery efforts, please call the Ashland Ranger District office at (406) 784-2344.