Series: National Park Service Alaska Region Fire Ecology Annual Report Calendar Year 2016

NPS Alaska Region Fire Ecology Annual Report Summary

By Jennifer L. Barnes and Jennifer L. Hrobak
Two fire ecologists in bright, lime-yellow rain suits monitor impacts of multiple fires in Denali.
Figure 1. Fire Ecologists monitoring the impacts of multiple fires in Denali.

NPS photo 2016

The National Park Service (NPS) Alaska region fire ecology program provides science-based information to guide fire and land management planning, decisions and practices in order to maintain and understand fire-adapted ecosystems in Alaska.

During the 2016 field season, the Alaska NPS fire ecology program conducted monitoring at the Wrangell-St. Elias McCarthy University Subdivision fuels reduction site, re-measured plots that have burned multiple times in Denali (Fig. 1), and assisted with fire research projects at both sites. The regional fire ecologists were involved with preparing monitoring protocols, agreements and research proposals, instructing classes, and participating on several agency and interagency committees. Communication and outreach continued to be a focus for the program. This annual report provides a brief summary about the NPS Alaska 2016 fire season, fire ecology monitoring results, fire research projects, and fire ecology program activities and outreach.
A wildfire in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve burns through spruce trees causing torching flames and dense smoke.
Figure 2. A lightning ignited wildfire in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve shows active torching in spruce on the Kandik River fire June 29, 2016.

NPS photo

2016 Fire Season

The 2016 fire season in Alaska started early, with numerous human starts in April. The early spring was followed by a warm, but very wet summer in much of Interior Alaska and resulted in relatively low number of acres burned for the year statewide. By the end of the season, a total of 573 fires were reported and 500,794 acres burned statewide for Alaska in 2016 (AICC Situation Report Nov. 2, 2016, http://fire.ak.blm.gov/).

National Park Service in Alaska had a moderately active fire season, with a majority of the fires occurring in the Eastern Area Fire Management parks. Five parks had wildfires during the summer of 2016. There were 22 fires that burned within the park boundaries and a total of 59,532 acres burned within and adjacent to the park boundaries (Table 1). Of the area burned, 23,077 acres were on NPS owned lands. Wrangell-St. Elias had the greatest amount of area burned on AKR NPS lands and number of fires in 2016 (20,423 acres, Table 1). The largest fire, Steamboat Creek, burned within the area of 2009 Chakina fire. Yukon- Charley Rivers had several natural fires (Fig. 2), but most remained fairly small. The fire management staff carried out prescribed fire pile burns in Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias during 2016 at 3 sites (Table 1) and accomplished fuels reduction projects at several sites in the parks.

Table 1. Wildfires and prescribed fires in Alaska park units from 2016.
Park Unit Number of Wildfires1 Total Acres Burned1 Number of Wildfires started on NPS Lands2 Acres Burned NPS Lands2 Number of Prescribed Fire Units Acres of Prescribed Fires
Denali National Park and Preserve 1 3 13 3 2 (Toklat, Kantishna) 7.3
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve 1 34,591 0 1,342 - -
Noatak National Preserve 1 206 1 206 - -
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve 11 23,034 8 20,423 1 (Slana) 2
Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve 8 1,698 4 1,103 - -
Total for Region 22 59,532 14 23,077 3 9.3

1Includes total number of fires and acres of all fires that burned within or partially within the boundaries of the park unit. NPS boundaries include inholdings of lands not owned or managed by NPS. 2 Number of fires started and acres burned on NPS owned lands (WFMI stats).