NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — Wildlife biologist Todd Nordeen brought a lot of numbers, facts and pictures to illustrate the devastating wildfire year in northwest Nebraska.
But it was a three-minute YouTube video produced by a colleague that set his presentation to Nebraska Game and Parks commissioners on fire.
The video is a compilation of a trail camera's still photographs of mountain lions visiting a small water tank as smoke and flames descend into Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area in the Pine Ridge near Crawford.
“It humbles you, when you see flames coming at you over the hill like that,'' said Nordeen, the Game and Parks district wildlife manager in Alliance.
The camera captured images of a female cougar and two kittens drinking at the tank over three days as the West Ash Creek fire burned across forest land toward Chadron State Park in late August.
A bobcat wandered in one night after the mountain lions left. Smoke filled the air.
The mountain lions were last pictured the evening of Aug. 31. About 30 minutes before midnight, the nearby horizon behind the water tank explodes in light as flames approach the area.
Trail cameras shoot daytime images in color and night images in black and white. At one point, red, yellow and orange flames illuminated the scene so brightly that the camera switched to day mode and produced color photos.
Flames swept across the scene. By the morning on Sept. 1, the camera — which survived the fire — depicted a smoldering scene of destruction.
Text on the video says the mountain lions and their prey would seek out unburned areas until the scorched land is restored.
The video was produced by Sam Wilson, the Game and Parks carnivore manager in Lincoln. The photos were from a camera set out and checked by Steve Masek, a wildlife technician.
Nordeen told commissioners meeting in North Platte last week that the Pine Ridge wildfires were among more than 120 that burned across Nebraska and into South Dakota this year.
The first was reported March 12. The most recent was Oct. 20. Twenty were caused by people, about 100 by lightning.
Nine fires from mid-June to mid-October burned 271,514 acres, the equivalent of 424 square miles, in places from the Niobrara River Valley east of Valentine to Hay Springs, Chadron, Crookston, Crawford and Hemingford in the west.
Nordeen said large fires are becoming more common in the West, according to U.S. Forest Service statistics of fires that burn more than 1,000 acres.
He said the best protection is to continue thinning forests, conduct prescribed burns, conduct community pre-planning, plan fire-tempering landscaping and continue fire prevention training.
A free public workshop, especially for people who experienced the Pine Ridge wildfires, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Chadron State Park.
“Wildfire is fresh in everyone's mind, especially after what happened to us this summer,'' said Doak Nickerson, a Nebraska Forest Service forester in Chadron.
Nickerson said the huge burned areas left behind on the landscape could have significant impacts on watersheds as soil and ash wash downstream. Water quality for rural and town residents could be affected.
The workshop will focus on options to treat forest lands and minimize the impact on soil and water. Discussion will include forestry tools such as buffers, culverts and roads.
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