Fire Management


By restoring fire to its natural role in the forest we are better able to maintain healthy forests. Fire management activities are guided by wildlife habitat requirements, restoration of natural processes, native diversity and reduction of hazardous fuels.

Prescribed fire has been used in forest management for many years.
The forests of northeast Washington 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. The tree, shrub, forb and grass species present here developed adaptations that allow them to not only survive fire but to thrive with fire. In addition, Native Americans and settlers used fire as a technique for hunting, fireproofing land and property and crop management.
The United States began suppressing fires in the early 1900’s. With the exclusion of most natural ignited fire, flammable vegetation and woody debris have accumulated throughout the forests, compromising forest health. Forests have became overcrowded with small trees, fuels have built up and shade tolerant species have 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 U.S. 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.
Carefully planned prescribed fire gives our Refuge manager 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, fish, wildlife and plants.

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, western larch 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. 

The benefits of thinning followed by prescribed burning include: reducing the threat of large wildfires; increasing protection for surrounding homes and property; reducing stand density, canopy closure, ladder fuels and fuels on the forest floor; and naturally thinning trees and recycling nutrients into the soil. 

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. 

Prior to ignition, burn units are prepared in advance by reducing excess fuels through pre-commercial thinning, falling hazard trees, constructing fuel breaks and containment lines, installing hose-lays, having accessible water sources and identifying escape routes and safety zones. The burn will not be started unless all prescriptive conditions are met on the scheduled burn day.
The fire program at the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge 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.
Our fire crew is a local, interagency resource; working together with local firefighters and sometimes with 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, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, local fire districts and the Washington Department of Natural Resources can request assistance from the LPO fire crew.