Prescribed burns in Tony Dean Wilderness could have prevented spread of the Cottonwood Fire

Update, 26 October, 0750 MDT: this photo looks like the Cottonwood Fire zone: synchronicity or something else?

Update, 1740 MDT: it looks like the blaze began just north of I-90 on the Pennington/Jackson County border near the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site recently the setting in a political advert for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and staging ground for the suppression of the Cottonwood Fire. If intentionally set during red flag conditions it would be the first known case of weaponized wildfire in South Dakota. Recall that the Jasper Fire was intentional but was never proved to be politically motivated.

The State of South Dakota is the fourth most dependent on federal dollars and as expected disaster funding has been requested.

Mop-up operations on the human-caused 31,000 acre Cottonwood Fire east of Wall are continuing today. Some federal lands in Pennington and Jackson County, South Dakota managed by Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands were involved.

The above map was generated by Pennington County IMT: note the federal lands in green. Two state-owned parcels in the image (shaded purple) are proposed in the troubled land swap between the State of South Dakota and the feds in Spearditch Canyon. So, the State approached an agency based in Nebraska for the exchange likely bypassing the Black Hills National Forest.

Back in 2010 then-Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) tried to make some of that portion of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland part of the Tony Dean Wilderness Area.

Kevin Woster reported on its lack of progress in 2011. Former Deadwood businessman Dave Miller supported the Act, too:
Designating eight percent of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands as wilderness is no land-grab conspiracy to curtail cattle grazing, nor will it threaten private lands or terminate management. Instead, it will secure a prairie grassland heritage that has few equals on this planet. [Grasslands bill isn’t a land grab]
Author George Wuerthner mentioned S. 3310 as a part of the doomed Omnibus Wilderness Bill.
America has very little of its native prairie in any protected status. Most of the plains have been carved up by till farming, and the rest is grazed by livestock. Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act would correct this by designating 48,000 acres as wilderness in the Indian Creek, Red Shirt and Chalk Hills areas of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland on the borders of Badlands NP. Walking these vast open breathing spaces reminds me of being on the vastness of tundra in Alaska. It’s a sense of freedom that is more difficult to experience in more forested terrain. As with any designated wilderness, livestock grazing will continue. This is particularly ironic since Tony Dean, who was an outdoor writer in South Dakota, railed against welfare ranchers and their impact on the state for decades. [Wuerthner]
 The Black Hill National Forest just cancelled a critical prescribed burn under favorable conditions because of threats from Thune.

Not talking about fuel treatments during a wildfire is the same thing as not talking about firearms management during a mass shooting.

Had Sen. Johnson been successful in passing his bill the land in question would have been placed within the stewardship of Badlands National Park and much, if not all, of the federal land scorched by the Cottonwood Fire would have been burned off prescriptively in increments instead of being managed by some careless rancher or passing motorist.

Of course, the South Dakota Democratic Party should urge President Obama to dissolve the Black Hills National Forest, move management of the land from the US Department of Agriculture into the Department of Interior; and, in cooperation with Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Forestry and Wildfire Management, rename it Okawita Paha or He Sapa National Monument eventually becoming part of the Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge. Mato Paha (Bear Butte), the associated national grasslands and the Sioux Ranger District of the Custer/Gallatin National Forest should be included in the move.

It's time for the State of South Dakota to abandon Bear Butte State Park that it claimed through colonization and remand it to the tribes for governance so they can restore its name to Mato Paha and for the US Park Service to add the name Mahto Tipila to Devils Tower National Monument.

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