Alaska Wildland Fire Management Program
Wildland fire managers in Alaska national parks are stewards of a land mass a bit larger than Austria. And since 1950, 1,000 fires in the parks have burned nearly 3 million acres. Alaska national parks experience fire and it's not all bad. In fact 82% of the fires are lightning caused and burn in the boreal forest where fire is a natural process that restores ecosystem health and wildlife habitat. Fire managers balance the risks and benefits of fire by committing to safety, science, and stewardship. They also do not manage fire alone. They work with communities, local, state, federal, and native organizations to keep Alaskans safe and landscapes healthy.
Wildland fire management in Alaska national parks is unlike most units elsewhere in the service. As a jurisdictional agency, National Park Service fire professionals work closely with protecting agencies: Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service and State of Alaska Division of Forestry. When managing wildfires National Park Service fire managers provide strategic direction to protection agencies that lead operations. In times of need, National Park Service fire management staff and resources are shared with federal, state, local, native organizations, tribal, and non-governmental partners. The Alaska wildfire season typically begins in late May and ends in late July. On average, one million acres burn statewide each year.
Wildfires in Alaska
Got plans to travel to a ¬†national park in Alaska during the summer? Read NPS’s Alaska fire updates to learn about fire activity in the parks and smoke conditions.
We no longer can ask if a fire will burn, rather we must ask, “When?”
At 12:26 pm on June 17, 2005, the Roosevelt Cabin in Denali National Park and Preserve was smack on the path of the McKinley Fire, a mere eight miles away. Under the right fuel and wind conditions, such a distance is an easy afternoon’s run for a fire. The job for the small crew who landed by helicopter was clear – remove or reduce flammable materials from the area surrounding the cabin to prevent any approaching flames from jumping to the structure. Some trees would be cut, brush and grasses trimmed, a sprinkler system put in place with portable pumps, and the crew would leave safely.
The fire veered in a different direction and got no closer. But wildland fire does happen in Alaska. It is a natural and significant force that shapes the boreal forest and tundra ecosystems. Rather than risk placing fire crews near an oncoming fire to make these last minute preparations, fire staff proactively plan and prepare infrastructures throughout the parks in advance of the eventual fire. “Firewise” is the process of creating defensible space around structures to provide a safer environment – for subsistence cabin users, visitors, park staff, and firefighters – in the case of wildland fire. Use of Firewise techniques lessens wildland fire risk to structures or communities. Anyone can apply Firewise techniques around any valued structures.
Science, Ecology and Research
Wildland fire is an essential, natural process in the Alaskan boreal forests and tundra. What first looks like devastation soon blooms into a panorama of life!
A fire of moderate severity burned in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. It killed spruce trees but after the fire black spruce cones released an abundance of seeds. Birch and aspen came back quickly. Shrubs like willows, roses, and Labrador tea re-sprouted vigorously too. Fireweed and grasses were abundant for a few years after the fire. Mosses and lichens were consumed but new pioneer species of mosses and liverworts established and over time as the spruce canopy developed, feather mosses and lichens re-established. Wildlife thrived after the fire because of the variety of food. Birds and wildlife species including moose took advantage of the grasses, willows, birch, and aspen trees.
The purpose of the Alaska National Park Service Fire Ecology Program is to understand the ecological effects of fire on the landscape. Fire ecologists collect and analyze information about the effects of fire on vegetation, fuels, soil, and wildlife habitat and the fire behavior associated with the fire effects. The results inform fire management planning, objectives, and decisions. Learn more about Science, Ecology, and Research in Alaska’s national parks.
Connect with us, explore, and learn about Alaska National Park Service Wildland Fire Management in many different ways.