Wet weather delays controlled burn plans again

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) A controlled burn on the drawing board for eight years and scheduled to begin this week north of the Alaska Range is on hold again.

The Alaska Departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources were scheduled to light the 50,000-acre controlled burn Thursday. Then came the rain.

''The planets are not aligned,'' said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Pete Buist. ''Unfortunately, we're used to putting it off.''

For the operation to commence, Buist said, there will have to be another weeklong heat wave to dry out vegetation in the area between the Wood and Tatlanika rivers 50 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

The burn requires proper weather conditions, dry ground layers of moss, leaves and shrubs, in addition to enough fire crews to monitor the burn.

''If we're not in prescription, we do not light,'' Buist said.

Fire managers hope the burn would destroy all surface debris in the area, creating a clean slate for the ecosystem. With the top plant layer scorched away, the soil beneath will be warmed by the sun.

''Mostly, it helps to prepare a natural seed bed, if you will,'' Buist said. The absence of larger trees would allow smaller plants to spread out and reclaim the area.

With the return of willow, aspen and birch, moose and other wildlife will have a wide range of nutritional resources. The risk of an uncontrolled blaze also will be greatly diminished, as most wildfires are fueled by dense forests of spruce.

''This burn is greatly needed by the moose,'' said Fish and Game biologist Don Young. ''Cow moose are having their first calves at an older age, giving birth to fewer twins, and calves are smaller than before. We are worried that moose numbers will decline if nothing is done to improve the habitat.''

The burn could also reduce the threat of future fires in the nearby Gold King area, officials said.

Fire crews worked earlier in the week, before rain fell, to set up protective water pumps and hoses near cabins and structures.

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