Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge
Pacific Region


Prescribed fire has been used in forest management for many years.
Low intensity  prescribed fire
Low intensity prescribed fire
Prescribed fire consuming ground fuels
Prescribed fire consuming ground fuels
The forests of the Inland Northwest are fire-adapted ecosystems. Natural ignitions played an extensive role in shaping their make-up and structure for thousands of years prior to the twentieth century. In addition, Native Americans and settlers used fire as a technique for hunting, fireproofing land and property, and crop management.
Ladder fuels
Ladder fuels
The United States began suppressing fires in the early 1900’s. Forest health degraded as natural fuels began to build. Trees became crowded, fuels built up, and shade tolerant species expanded.
The buildup of forest litter, brush and younger trees, creates ladder fuels which enables fire to reach mature, older tree tops more easily. When fire has easier access to tree crowns, fire control is more difficult and dangerous and more trees are killed.
Prescribed fire is used as a tool for the re-introduction of fire into our forests, leaving them less susceptible to devastating wildfires. The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages fire to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats while protecting Service facilities, neighboring lands, and surrounding communities.
Fire restored habitat
Fire restored habitat for wildlife
Carefully planned prescribed fire gives refuge managers the flexibility to burn under favorable conditions where the intended fire effects will benefit natural resources while keeping firefighters and the public safe. These actions help reduce the risk of devastating wildfires that can threaten people, communities, and fish, wildlife, and plants.
On Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge (LPO), we strive to manage, conserve, and restore fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations. We use silviculture, the art and science of managing forests, to provide wildlife habitats that are missing from the surrounding landscape. Most of this work occurs in the dry forest habitats dominated by ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Commercial and non-commercial thinning reduces competition between the remaining trees for sunlight, water, and other nutrients. After thinning, the residual fuels, or slash, may be stacked into piles and burned. A final step is burning the whole unit. These steps help to safely restore fire to refuge forests and accelerate natural forest succession.
Benefits of thinning followed by prescribed burning:

  • Reduces the threat of large wildfires
  • Increases protection for homes and property
  • Reduces stand density, canopy closure, ladder fuels, and fuels on the forest floor

Healthy forest after burn
A healthy forest following a prescribed burn
When wildfires burn in areas during the hot, dry months of the year, they tend to have less intensity and are not so devastating to the resource when prior thinning and prescribed burning has occurred. In fact, they become beneficial in that they help maintain a healthy more natural forest.
Burn thins trees
A prescribed burn naturally thins trees and recycles nutrients into the soil
Ecosystem benefits of thinning followed by low intensity prescribed burning:

  • Smaller, weaker trees are killed
  • Lower branches from bigger trees are pruned which leaves more room for the remaining trees to grow larger and healthier.
  • Excess litter and surface fuels are  removed
  • Soil quality is improved

Ground and surface level fires are optimal for prescribed burns which allow the fine fuels, litter and duff to be consumed by the fire. The ash returns vital nutrients back into the soil such as nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.

Moose feeding in old burn
Moose feeding in old prescribed burn
Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge Fire Management also focuses on fire suppression during the hot and dry summer months. Fire suppression is important in keeping uncontrolled fires from getting too large and hindering personal safety and the safety of homes and property.

The LPO fire crew is a local, interagency resource; working together with local firefighters and firefighters from all over the country. The Refuge is always covered by at least one staffed fire engine during the fire season. Being an interagency resource, the surrounding forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Park Service, local fire districts, and Department of Natural Resources can also request assistance from the LPO fire crew.


Forest Management
Pest Management


Last updated: October 26, 2009