Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
KOYUKUK/NOWITNA: Burning Issues: Fire Research
Alaska Region, August 24, 2004
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The summer of 2004 has the distinction of being the second biggest fire season in Alaska's history. Extensive wildfires, especially near towns and villages, generated public concern about the impacts of fire to the boreal forest ecosystem. These large scale events remind us of the value of research that contributes to our understanding of biological processes in Alaska.

Koyukuk/Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge Complex has several historic and ongoing projects related to fire ecology. Permanent vegetation transects were established in 2001 in a portion of the Koyukuk Refuge that burned in 2000. The burn is of particular interest because it is in part of the wintering range of the Galena Mountain Caribou Herd. Biologists Jenny Bryant and Karin Lehmkuhl are monitoring the return of plants to the site, particularly changes in lichen cover because of its importance to caribou diet.

Annual songbird surveys in the burn and an adjacent unburned area began in 2002. Furbearer and small mammal use of burned areas has been studied on the Koyukuk and Nowitna refuges for nearly 15 years. During the 2004 field season, Lehmkuhl returned to sites in 1985 and 1988 burns where she studied yellow-cheeked vole populations from 1997-1999. Vegetation sampling revealed vigorous growth in shrubs like dwarf birch and willow and regeneration of black spruce.

Long term monitoring is valuable in determining the effects of fire on ecosystems. The summer of 2004 burned more than 250,000 acres on the Kaiyuh flats of the Northern Unit of the Innoko NWR and biologists are eager to see how this impacts the moose population. It is rewarding for managers and biologists to be able to provide concerned public with sound scientific answers, and this year's extreme fire season is a prime example. The biological research and monitoring we conduct on Refuges has value far beyond the borders of our refuges.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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