Every year fire managers set prescribed fire to millions of acres of land across the country in an effort to restore natural landscapes, reduce large accumulations of hazardous fuels, reduce the risk to life and property from wildfire and prepare fields for farming. Here at Klamath Basin, we use fire for all of these purposes. Our program is one of the largest burn-acreage-producing fire management organizations in the western United States. Over the past seven years, we've averaged more than 18,700 acres treated with prescribed fire each year, with a program high of more than 34,600 acres during fiscal year 2005.
Fire has long played a role in forming and managing our natural landscapes like forests and marshes. In the Klamath Basin, fire has been used on and off of refuge properties for decades primarily for field burning. Fire replenishes depleted growth elements to soils and helps clear fields of vegetative debris. The same effects are visible in forested landscapes as well. For thousands of years small lightning fires burned unchecked throughout forests, occasionally removing the layers of pine needles, small branches or other natural forest floor debris. These low intensity fires produced fire-tolerant trees and encouraged new plant growth. The large, and sometimes catastrophic, wildfires experienced today occurred on a lesser scale.
With the development of the wildland urban interface - the area where the natural and built environments meet and/or coexist - and the need to protect and balance resource needs, the ability to let wildfires burn unchecked is not always an option. To assist the natural processes and experience the benefits of fire, resource managers introduce fire in a managed fashion, first designating an area for treatment. An area might be treated with prescribed fire because of large amounts of ground fuels which pose a risk to homes in a forested community. Or perhaps a nesting raptor benefits from strong, large, fire-tolerant trees and using fires promotes that sort of environment. The possible uses of fire are potentially endless.
But before the "first match is struck" and fire is "put on the ground", much planning and preparation must take place. Holding lines (a line of variable width scraped clean of vegetative material down to bare mineral soil or manmade roads or natural barriers not able to burn, like a river) must be established and/or constructed. Plans must be written outlining "burn prescriptions" (parameters under which a burn may or may not occur based upon weather conditions, personnel available, community needs, risks, etc). Coordination between local, state and federal agencies must be attained. Forces must be gathered. Funding must be available.
At Klamath Basin, we use prescribed fire for farm field preparation, natural landscape enhancement, habitat improvement and risk reduction. Bear Valley NWR has experienced prescribed fire numerous times, including a new round of risk reduction between the refuge and its neighbors in the Keno, Oregon, subdivision of Cedar Trails. Fire is also being used to remove branches, brush and small unhealthy trees following a selective timber sale, all aimed at improving the vitality of bald eagle roosting and nesting sites.
Tule Lake and Lower Klamath NWR's see fire on a nearly year-round basis. The refuges are host to a unique leaseland farming program, where farmers bid on leases to farm on refuge properties. As part of the agreement and per federal guidelines, firefighters treat the fields with fire each year prior to planting. Fire is also used on these refuges to burn off decadent marsh vegetation, opening up new nesting areas for migratory waterfowl.
The use of fire is a major management tools on wildlife refuges throughout the nation, especially at Klamath Basin. Learn more about our Leaseland Burning program or fuels reduction and habitat improvement projects at Bear Valley NWR. Also explore our Multimedia pages for pictures and videos you can only find here.