Written collaboratively by Sean Kelly, Greg Schmitz and Tom Hausmann.
Properly maintained pastures require ongoing, cooperative and mutually beneficial processes planned and executed by owners and renters, especially if the owners are absentee. While non-operating landowners likely have a return-on-investment mindset, they also realize that they and their renters need to continually discuss, plan and engage in effective, long-term, proper pasture management procedures. This is particularly true if they both recognize that an increasing number of cedar trees are limiting the carrying capacity and devaluing the property itself.
The first step in creating a solid working relationship between an owner and a renter is addressing the long-term goals of both parties. Trust and confidence in one another are fundamental to creating and maintaining this relationship. Of course, renters who are offered only annual or short-term leases are more apt to simply take another crop of grass and not worry about the long-term effects of poor management. However, a longer-term lease helps the owner gain cooperation from the renter, while providing some security for the renter to benefit his/her longer-term plans also.
“The first step in creating a solid working relationship between an owner and a renter is addressing the long-term goals of both parties. Trust and confidence in one another are fundamental to creating and maintaining this relationship.”
The Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association (MMRPBA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that facilitates the control of cedar tree encroachment on grasslands in South Dakota’s Brule, Charles Mix, Gregory and Lyman counties. If cedar trees are a primary renovation concern, the process of ridding pastures of cedar trees is also long-term, taking up to two or three years for planning and execution just for the initial burn.
First, if the shearing/burning of cedar trees is a viable option in heavily populated cedar tree areas, the owner and renter need to discuss the risks and complications of such an action, especially if the areas are in rough terrain. The renter needs to recognize the possible need for deferred grazing, the need to create or improve trails within the burn area, the marking of dangerous or difficult areas to travel within the burn area, and the likely clean-up needs after the burn is completed – since a good share of this work may become his/her responsibility.
Second, the owner and renter need to discuss and plan the actual process itself: Descriptions of the specific areas to be burned, what local personnel might be able to help with the actual burn, access of safety equipment in case of an emergency, and the utilization of natural fire breaks, like roads and waterways, among other criteria. In some cases, conferring with neighbors who also have a cedar tree problem and are interested in burning may simplify some of these considerations. Sometimes burning a larger landscape provides more natural firebreaks and solves access issues within the burn area and for safety equipment and other concerns.
Finally, both the owner and renter need to take advantage of the knowledge and experiences of the MMRPBA. Ideally, both owners and renters would attend burn association meetings and get involved in conversations with others who are planning or have already implemented burns. The owner and renter need to participate in several burns, particularly in terrain like theirs. They need to observe up-close how the ignition team works together and notice what preparations and equipment are on hand for fire suppression and other key functions in the process. They also need to take notes and discuss how they can apply what they have experienced and learned.
As successful MMRPBA burns since 2017 have indicated, the shearing/burning of cedar trees have been effective and are practical methods of beginning or continuing the process of pasture improvement—through participation and involvement of both the owners and the renters.
For more information about prescribed burning for cedar tree control on grasslands, or to learn more about how to get involed with the MMRPBA, contact Sean Kelly, SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist.