The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is for the first time revising its fire management plan environmental assessment in accordance with national policy. The refuge will take public comments on the draft document until May 31.
“Basically (the plan) will show the public what our general plans are for using fire on the landscape and the types of treatment that we would do in and around the refuge lands near those communities,” said Doug Newbould, fire management officer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The plan’s environmental assessment examines the effect forest fires would have on nearby communities and ecosystems.
The fire management plan proposes two alternatives — option A and B — for managing forest fires. Alternative A pitches no change; Alternative B proposes changes to the refuge’s hazardous fuels and wild fire mitigation policies, according to the plan.
One goal is to protect communities from the effects of forest fires; another is to facilitate environmental conservation and restoration.
Prescribed burning is a method for accomplishing both, according to the plan. By removing stockpiles of fuel sources — beetle-killed trees or black spruce concentrations — and then burning the piles, the threat of potential forest fires can be reduced, Newbould said.
When carried out along wilderness-urban interfaces, those methods can be effective for protecting communities from forest fires, he said.
“We would like to let natural fires burn when they can, but if we have lightning right next to a community, we have to protect the community,” he said.
Updating the refuge’s fire management plan allows it to set prescribed burns, he said.
Alternative B proposes a collaboration between the refuge and existing community wildland protection plans to reduce fire fuel sources. Alternative A would not link their efforts.
Currently, however, Newbould said the refuge received no federal funding for prescribed burns.
“A consideration for us is the nature of our fuels management program has changed primarily because the funding has changed,” he said.
Refuge Deputy Manager Steve Miller said the environmental assessment in the plan is a good introduction to the refuge’s fire management plans.
“The public should have the opportunity to see this is how we manage the land,” Miller said.
Once the public comment period closes, the refuge will record and individually address all comments. Find the refuge’s draft document here: http://1.usa.gov/163PGwz.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.