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Ash Creek fire

Lands within the 244,000 acre Ash Creek fire are a mosaic of burned and unburned land. Thursday July 5, 2012.

A year after wildfires burned more than a third of the Ashland Ranger District of the Custer National Forest, crews are clearing burned trees along roadways, working to stabilize the soil to prevent runoff and rebuilding burned fences on grazing allotments.

"One of the messages they would like to get across is that their work is long term, getting the landscape back to a healthy state could take three to five years or more," said Patrick Lair, forest spokesman.

Some of the work is funded by an additional $1 million in Burned Area Emergency Response funding.

The district is about 436,000 acres, and last year roughly 155,000 acres burned as a result of lightning-caused wildfires.

The Ash Creek fire, which started last June 25 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and grew into the state’s largest recorded wildfire, burned more than 87,000 acres of forest 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, shortly after burned more than 19,000 acres.

The district is considered one of the largest grazing districts in the forest system, with more than 18,000 head of cattle a year permitted. The district is also a destination for hunters.

There are no road closures in effect, but the district is urging the public to use caution when accessing the forest. Roads may be wetter and muddier than normal because of reduced vegetation. Burned trees are also expected to fall, especially during periods of high wind. Some roads may be temporarily blocked by downed trees.

Crews from the Forest Service, BLM and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe are clearing hazard trees along about 50 miles of road. Work will continue throughout the year.

Ranching has been affected by the fires, too. Grazing deferments have been issued through midsummer 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 re-establish some of the rotation grazing pasture fences; however, with limited budgets this may be a multi-year process to repair all fences.

The district has also been working closely with the National Weather Service, and local emergency groups, to prepare for runoff if heavy rain occurs. 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 wildlife habitat.

For more information about fire recovery efforts, call the Ashland Ranger District office at 406-784-2344.