Fire Management Sends Support to Pacific Islands
Visitors and nearby residents to Sand Island at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge recently got to see something very unusual as firefighters from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignited a debris pile over 180 feet long, 70 feet wide and 50 feet deep temporarily sending a plume of smoke into the air. The pile was comprised of ironwood tree slash left over from work done by the Service to reduce the non-native tree species which has been thriving on the island.
Service employees with the help of local contractors have been actively cutting or pushing over ironwood trees in designated areas and piling them to be burned. Approximately 900 acres of ironwood trees cover the island. Service biologists would like to reduce that number to about 300 acres to provide more natural habitat for the nearly 2 million ground nesting birds living at the refuge located northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands.
The Service has no fire personnel stationed at the refuge and relies on contractor and volunteer crews to complete several of their projects. Much of the help comes from Thai Nationals who are the primary residents to the area. Fire specialists from the Service’s Pacific Region, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, traveled to Midway to ensure proper planning and safety precautions were in place for the burn. While there, they were able to provide chainsaw safety training to contractors, volunteers and refuge staff. The training focused on chainsaw safety, operations, and maintenance. Over the next few years, hundreds of acres of ironwood will be removed to provide ground nesting habitat and these contractors will be instrumental in this operation.
Limited amounts of prescribed burning has been done at the refuge in the past, but it will likely remain in the mix of options for the Service to achieve the continuing objective to provide better habitat for the large populations of ground nesting birds living at Midway.
The burning debris pile smolders into the evening hours. Brett Fay, USFWS
A huge pile of ironwood debris is ignited at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to restore natural habitat. Somchet Wittayakhom, USFWS
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