Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges are some of the most prominent birding areas in the west. Complex refuges, founded in 1928 and 1908 respectively, they have a unique component of leaseland farming. Farmers bid annually to lease fields from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through a special Bureau of Reclamation program. Farmers grow a combination of wheat, grains, alfalfa, sugar beets, onions, potatoes and other vegetables throughout the growing seasons. After the final harvest of the season, fields sit fallow until next seasons growing period. During this time, fields offer vital nesting habitat and feeding grounds for migrating waterfowl. When the new growing season arrives, farmers request field burns, which are conducted by refuge firefighters.
Leaseland fields vary in size from 40 acres to well over 300 acres. Klamath Basin's firefighters use handheld drip torches, All Terrain Vehicles (ATV's) outfitted with drip tanks torches (as pictured above - tanks hold a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuels, pumped through a propane torch) and Vari pistols (flare gun-like handheld ignition device that shoots incendiaries into inaccessible areas). Our fire staff is very successful at consuming greater than 95% of all fuels (grasses, previous years standing grain, weeds, etc.) in lease fields. By removing these fuels, farmers can more easily plant, reducing the amount of debris caught in machinery and have nutrients such as nitrogen - a prime element in successful growth - reintroduced to the soils.
While leaseland fields are generally surrounded by roads and canals, they can produce very dangerous fire behavior. Fast rates of spread, intense heat, random and varied winds, dry fuel and other factors all contribute to serious conditions requiring very talented, skilled and safe application of prescribed fire. During the 2005 field burning season, refuge firefighters were assisted by local forces from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, ensuring timely, efficient services to the leasee.