Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
YUKON FLATS: The Refugecontinuesa Wildland Urban Interface Projectwith theFort Yukon Community
Alaska Region, April 14, 2010
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Traveling to Alaska’s remote villages offers a different sort of logistical makeup seldom encountered within the refuge system.  In the Last Frontier where roads are few and far between, refuge staff rely on agency Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) aircraft flown by our skilled pilots for transportation to these scattered populations. For instance, in Alaska you might compare a Cessna 185 to a SUV’s driven in the lower 48.  So on the morning of April 14th, fire managers Brian Haugen and Sam Patten hopped on a Cessna 185 flown by FWS pilot Mike Hinkes.  They flew 140 miles northeast of Fairbanks to the village of Fort Yukon which sits in the heart of Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge.  They were going to be participating in a school-wide career fair and to working with Fort Yukon’s local government to develop a strategy to protect the village from wildfires.


Fort Yukon lies at the confluence of the Porcupine and Yukon rivers and with a relatively robust population of 600, one of the larger Alaska villages.  This part of Alaska has seen its share of wildfire over the years, most recently the 2005 Sheenjek fire which nearly led to the evacuation of Fort Yukon.  Thankfully, the village was spared but wildfire is a frequent and necessary visitor to this landscape and it is only a matter of time before residents of Fort Yukon once again see a telling plume of smoke signaling yet another wildfire.  So working with community leaders, refuge fire staff devised a plan to mitigate the threat of a catastrophic wildfire sweeping through the community.  Fuel breaks, used to slow the advance of an oncoming wildfire, are planned on the outskirts of town and by implementing FireWise techniques, houses and important community buildings will be further protected.  This project will also provide a much needed economic boost to the Fort Yukon economy as local crews will be hired to carry out this project.    These same crews being put to work for this FWS funded Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) project also serve as Emergency Fire Fighters in the summer months fighting blazes not only in Alaska but the lower 48 as well.  


Later that same day as Haugen and Patten began setting up a display table for the career fair, piling it high with pamphlets and firefighting gear, students of all ages started asking questions and curiously puzzling through the gear.   When asked if they were interested in becoming a wildland firefighter, these kids responded with the level of excitement and eagerness that only a 10 year old can possess,   though after trying on one of the heavy packs worn by firefighters, some of the students hesitate as the weight of the bulky pack strained young muscles.  Will this next generation of Alaskan   firefighters be ready to face the challenges and risks of living in what is an increasingly fire prone environment?  Through our part, by continued public outreach and by providing funding for similar WUI projects, the Service stands to play a crucial role in protecting Alaska’s remote villages from destructive wildfires.

Contact Info: Nicole Gustine, 907-456-0386, nicole_gustine@fws.gov
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