Pheasants Forever Nebraska

Looking Back on the 2021 Loup TREX

Following the fire on their booming grounds, these prairie chickens with sharp-tail grouse were back at their leks settling their territorial disputes in the ashes. Photo Credit: Ben Wheeler.

The Loup TREX took place this year from March 21 through April 3. Almost forty professional wildland firefighters from around the country descended upon central Nebraska to work on their fire line qualifications through participating in live-fire training experiences. While training, these fire practitioners were also delivering much-needed fire to grassland ecosystems. Fire does not destroy habitat, in fact, it helps it thrive, especially in Nebraska. These fires will help to reduce and prevent eastern redcedar encroachment, recycle nutrients, improve forage stimulation and availability and increase daily livestock gains for livestock producers. From a bigger picture, these fires are helping to keep healthy grasslands vibrant, diverse and productive.

Grasslands are fire dependent systems, which means that without the fire disturbance to reset the vegetation, grasslands will gradually transition into a different system. In central Nebraska, this usually means an eastern redcedar woodland. Eastern redcedar encroachment of grasslands has become one of the largest conservation challenges throughout the Great Plains. As eastern redcedar invades a grassland or pasture, forage quantity and quality for livestock becomes substantially reduced. This not only has impacts to maintaining profitable livestock operations and family ranches, but also negatively affects grassland wildlife. Many grassland species require large open grasslands free of trees, to persist. When trees begin to encroach, these wildlife, like greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse leave. Using fire can keep trees like eastern redcedar at bay, sustaining productive and healthy grasslands for both livestock and wildlife.
During the Loup TREX, fire practitioners delivered almost 3,000 acres of fire. Aside from a rainy first day, participants put fire on the ground every day of the event. Because the weather was variable during the event (a little rain, a little snow, a little wind, a little sun), fire from day to day looked different. To capitalize on weather conditions that would allow fire, some fires were hotter, some were colder, some were smaller and others were larger. In the end, this led to a wide diversity of fire effects on the ground. Participants of the Loup TREX joined from California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wyoming. In past year’s the Loup TREX has also received international participants from several countries, lending credibility to the value of this fire training opportunity.
The Loup TREX event has been occurring annually since 2009 and as of this past year, eclipsed 30,000 acres of delivering healthy fire to central Nebraska grasslands. Learn more about TREX opportunities across the nation by visiting their TREX Fire Exchange Facebook.
Read more about the Loup Trex by checking their calendar and photo events below.
Author: Ben Wheeler
Ben is a Coordinating Wildlife Biologist who works with private landowners in central Nebraska. In addition to fire, Ben helps landowners develop programs for healthy native grassland and wetland habitats. When not working, Ben’s primary passions in life are spending as much time as possible outside with family and friends, being a goofball dad, and coaching t-ball.

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