Alaska Refuge, Partners Protect Remote Villages from Wildfire

August 2007

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continued its efforts this year to protect remote Alaskan villages within refuge boundaries from wildland fire.

In areas near villages where large wildland fires must be suppressed, prescribed burns and mechanical treatments are conducted in cooperation with local villages to help maintain the role of fire in the ecosystem and to reduce wildfire risk.

Among the recent projects, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge recently used machinery to reduce the risk of refuge wildfires spreading to the village of Beaver, population 80. The deciduous forest around the town contains dense areas of highly flammable spruce seedlings. Warm summers also have dried up the lakes around Beaver, which now are covered with dense stands of highly flammable grass that could potentially carry wildland fire to the village.

Last year Alaska Fire Service, firefighters from Yukon Flats refuge and emergency firefighters from Beaver applied prescribed fire to three dry, grassy lakebeds totaling 145 acres. This year, fire staff will use machinery to connect the three burned lakebeds by clearing fire lanes through the forest. This will create a semicircle of protective fire breaks around the village. The woody vegetation will be piled and burned near the Yukon River during other prescribed fires supervised by refuge staff.

Fire management staff from the Service’s office in Fairbanks also began two more several risk reduction projects this year. The Service-sponsored projects in the adjacent communities of Bettles and Evansville in the foothills of the Brooks Range near Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, is a continuation of a project started in 2006. Kanuti refuge maintains a field station at Bettles.

The goal of the local project is to reduce the risk of wildfire spreading from adjacent federal lands by thinning highly flammable black spruce stands in and around the community.  The work is being conducted by a local crew hired by the Evansville Tribal Council and assisted by the Bettles Volunteer Fire Department.  The thinning project will continue until July 2008.

The project will eventually result in forest thinning on 57 acres near residences and public areas. The prescribed fires near Evansville were held on an open gravel bar of the nearby Koyukuk River.  This project is similar to a 2003-04 project at Allakaket, west of the Kanuti refuge, where Service conducted an extensive thinning project around that community.

The third largest conservation area in the National Wildlife Refuge System, the nine-million acre Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is located in eastern interior Alaska.
Yukon Flats has a continental sub-arctic climate, with great seasonal extremes in temperature and daylight. Summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees, warmer than any other comparable latitude in North America. Winter temperatures can drop to -70F.

The refuge supports the highest density of breeding ducks in Alaska, and includes one of the greatest waterfowl breeding areas in North America. Since 1981, Yukon Flats has had more than 260 lightning-caused fires burn in excess of 2.5 million acres. The combination of fire and flood has created an area rich in wildlife.

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