KOYUKUK : Community of Huslia takes a Proactive Approach to Fighting Fires


Huslia, a village located on the Koyukuk River, is the site of a successful wildland urban interface project under the National Fire Plan.

The plan was written in 2000 and stresses the need for defensible space, an area where the amount burnable vegetation is reduced so fire suppression is manageable, around and within urban areas.

The Huslia Tribal Council, Huslia City Council, the Koyukuk/Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge, the Alaska Fire Service, and some key individuals came together and took ownership of the defensible space project, making it a success.

During the course of the Western Interior Regional Advisory Council meeting, held in Huslia in 2004, concerns were brought up by elders and other villagers about the lack of defensible space within and around their village. Bob Lambrecht, Refuge Fire Management Officer, had already considered Huslia as a possible project site. Hearing villager's concerns reinforced the need to take action. La'Ona DeWilde, an employee with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks who grew up in Huslia, approached Lambrecht about getting involved in the project. She was instrumental in gaining the villagers' support and developing the proposal, which was later presented to the tribal and city councils. Marlene Eno-Hendren, with the Alaska Fire Service out of Galena , also assisted. During the summer of 2004, Lambrecht, DeWilde and Eno-Hendren conducted a fuels assessment to determine the wildfire hazards in and around Huslia.

They determined that at all of the sites black spruce needed to be selectively thinned and limbed-up 5 feet, reducing the possibility of fire climbing into the crown. In some cases, all of the black spruce needed to be removed from the area leaving only birch and aspen. The formal proposal was presented to the city and tribal councils in August 2004. There was unanimous support for it. The tribal council agreed to oversee the project and Larry Schafer, tribal council administrator, agreed to be the project administrator.

All the necessary permits were received, $80,000 in funding was secured, and the crew was hired allowing the project to go forward in the spring of 2005. Clinton Weter, crew supervisor, and Warner Vent, alternate crew supervisor, started working with 10 other crewmembers from Huslia in late May. The black spruce were thinned, limbed up in some areas, and completely removed in others. The biomass was then piled and moved by trailer to the eroding riverbank in attempts to slow the erosion process, which appears to be working. Some piles will remain and be burned this fall.

Because of the crew's hard work and dedication, the project was completed in only four weeks with approximately 15 acres treated. Although this project doesn't stop the risk of wildfire in Huslia, it deals with potential damage that wildfire can cause, reducing the risk of a major catastrophe. This project couldn't have been completed without the support and understanding of the community of Huslia. The overwhelming success of this project provides an excellent example for other rural villages to follow to make their villages more defensible against wildland fire.

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