This past week we organized a yard sale for my daughter as a fundraiser for a summer ministry trip. After a successful sale, we visited the local convenience store. One of our neighboring ranchers leaned in the truck window and said, hey, that smoke’s on us. What smoke? Oh great!

Well after regrouping and dropping leftover stuff in a hurry at the house, we headed up to the hills, forest service land. Yep, smoke rising and some fire crews all ready on scene. Now, I wouldn’t have been too concerned but we still had some cow-calf “pairs” up there. Well, we called and they were standing on the road watching all the commotion. Got them in a neighbors corrals. Headed home, hubby got home from work, hitched up the trailer, and away we went again. Wouldn’t you know it, they refused to load! Too much noise and helicopters flying overhead. Turned them back out since the fire was heading away from and uphill from our location. If we’d needed to we would have trailed them down the road on foot, but we didn’t. Caught them up and they loaded fine two days later.

Actually, I wouldn’t have minded at all if the hills would have burned – no houses in danger, little wind (unlike the day before), and we’ve already been discussing having a prescribed burn with the forest service. But…since we haven’t completed the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) consultations and have a written burn plan, out it went. 10 acres total so really minor.

Ironically, the NEPA is working against what the land really needs. Burning occurred naturally much more frequently than it does now, about every 5 to 10 years. It reduces weeds, invasive brush, and keeps the ecosystem healthy with an influx of nitrogen into the soil. When we don’t burn, catastrophes happen as the fuel load gets huge. Yellowstone in the 1990s or our own Rodeo-Chedeski fire would be examples.

My first reaction was to go into emergency mode due to our cattle’s safety and our neighbors homes. Most folks do when they see flames or smell smoke. However, next time you see smoke, after you make sure no ones in danger and take a big breath, consider how fire can be a tool to improve our landscape. What is that smoke signal really telling you?