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Environmental Trust to Support Prescribed Fire Training
Nebraska Ag Connection - 05/16/2019

The Nebraska Environmental Trust recently announced a grant of $163,500 to support the "Loup River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange" for the second year in a row. In 2018, $178,500 was granted. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, will implement the project. The Trust board announced funding for the project at its meeting in Lincoln. The project is one of the 117 projects receiving $19,501,444 in grant awards from the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 2019. Of these, 85 are new applications and 32 are carry-over projects, such as this one.

Within the past century and a half, strong negative sentiments regarding wildfires have led to the suppression and prevention of naturally occurring fires across Nebraska. The consequent absence of fire as a regular part of Nebraska's grassland ecosystems has significantly altered habitat for native wildlife and has undermined the productivity of the livestock economy in Nebraska. At 1.4 million acres, the Central Loess Hills Biologically Unique Landscape (BUL) is the largest BUL in the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion. Currently, over 11% of the Central Loess Hills BUL grasslands are invaded by eastern red cedar. Without intervention, this invasion is expected to grow exponentially.

Even though prescribed fire has been one of the most rapidly adopted contemporary grassland management tools in Nebraska, most prescribed fires are less than one hundred acres in size. Larger prescribed fires are needed to mitigate tree invasion and limit future tree encroachment in order to secure grassland habitat for at-risk wildlife and a strong livestock economy in the Central Loess Hills BUL. The Fire Learning Network's Prescribed Fire Training Exchange Program has been operating in the Central Loess Hills BUL and Loup River watershed since 2010 and provides training to wildland firefighters including live, prescribed fire scenarios on private land. Since 2010, the Loup River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange has delivered over 29,000 acres of safe and effective prescribed fire in the Central Loess Hills BUL.

With the assistance of the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the Loup River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange will be able to assist in compensating landowners for resting their grass prior to a prescribed fire, which increases the ecological effectiveness of the fires. After this year, the second of the project, eight thousand acres of large-scale prescribed fire will have been delivered through the Loup River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange. In addition, financial assistance from the Nebraska Environmental Trust will allow the program to offer incentives for private landowners who are already burning to increase the size and impact of their prescribed fires. Through this incentive and the formal Loup River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange Program, it is anticipated that a total of 13,000 acres of targeted prescribed fire will be delivered over the two years. Nebraska Environmental Trust assistance will also augment equipment needs for prescribed fires by providing necessary fire line equipment.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the Trust has provided over $305 million in grants to over 2,200 projects across the state. Anyone -- citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses -- can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality, and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to preserve, protect and restore our natural resources for future generations.

The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture collaborates with private landowners, agriculture producers, conservation organizations, non-profits and government agencies across Nebraska to protect, restore and enhance habitat for millions of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wildlife. Nebraska Community Foundation serves as the financial management entity for the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture. For more information visit www.rwbjv.org.

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