Kenai wildlife refuge revises fire management plan

KENAI — The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is revising its fire management plan for the first time in five years, and the new proposal could let the refuge and communities cooperate on prescribed burns.

Officials at the refuge will take public comments on the environmental assessment until the end of the month.

“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,” Doug Newbould, fire management officer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, told the Peninsula Clarion.

The report examines the effect forest fires have on the ecosystem and nearby communities.

It offers two options: Either to have no changes from the current system, or to change the refuge’s hazardous fuels and wild fire mitigation policies.

Refuge officials say prescribed burns help protect communities from forest fires and also promote environmental conservation and restoration.

Prescribed burns reduce the removal of fuel sources, like beetle-killed trees or a concentration of black spruce.

Newbould said it is an effective method to protect communities when burns are used near urban areas.

“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.

The first alternative, the one with no changes to the current system, would not allow refuge wildland protection managers to collaborate with their counterparts in the communities on prescribed burns. The second option would allow that collaboration.

But, Newbould said, the refuge currently has 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.

The comment period is open until May 31.

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