An annual average of 20,000 acres burns each year at Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and nearly all fire ignition sources are natural starts. The preserve encompasses over 2.5 million acres, 95% of which is managed as a Limited Management Option. While human life and specific resources are protected, fires that start on these designated lands are not aggressively attacked but allowed to burn so that fire continues to play its natural role as a dynamic natural process within this fire dependent ecosystem.
Geographic and climatic factors at Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve enable wildland fire to ignite and burn. The preserve lies within an interior basin, surrounded by mountains to the north and south. This area experiences high lightning occurrence, low precipitation and high temperatures in the summer months. Wildland fire has been an inextricable component of this ecosystem for thousands of years.
As visitors travel the Yukon and Charley Rivers, the two main thoroughfares, they witness a history of fire on the landscape, burned and unburned islands of vegetation, a fire mosaic. The aspen and birch reveal recent burns while spruce indicates a lack of fire activity for 200-300 years. Without the routine occurrence of fire, organic matter accumulates, the permafrost table rises, and ecosystem productivity declines. Vegetation communities, wildlife habitat, and wildlife become less diverse. Fire, the agent of change, removes some of the insulating organic matter, elicits a warming of the soil, and maintains and rejuvenates these systems.