- Help new grasses and shrubs to grow, attracting meadow voles, other rodents, and grouse. Foxes, martens, and birds of prey soon follow.
- Increase herbs and willow shoots for moose to browse in burned areas. The new berry bushes attract bears.
- Recycle nutrients into the soil.
- Clear dense shrubbery and warm the soil, resulting in improved drainage and fertility.
- Be a tool in land management. This is called prescribed burning, and it is used to:
- Create changes in habitat that allow increased and more diverse use by wildlife.
- Prepare logged-over areas for reforestation.
- Make firebreaks to slow the advance of the forest fire.
- Clear land, to reduce fire hazard or allow for other uses.
Wildfires shape the landscape by creating a patchwork of meadows, shrub lands, birch, and spruce forests. As you travel in Alaska, see different plant communities by the changes in vegetation.
Fire Protection Levels: All lands in Alaska have been placed in one of four categories. These “Fire Protection Levels” set priorities for fire fighting.
- Critical Protection: Areas where humans live or habitations are present have priority over all others. Immediate and continuous efforts are made to minimize loss of life and damage to property.
- Full Protection: Valuable resources, such as commercial timbers stands and historic structures, exist; however, no human life or habitations exist in these areas. Immediate and aggressive action is taken to limit the number of acres burned.
- Modified Action: Uninhabited; with resources of lesser value. Land managers consider trade off of acres burned versus suppression expenses. Fires during critical burning months are attacked, but a lower level of protection is provided when risks of large, damaging fires is less.
- Limited Action: Areas where natural fires are beneficial, or where the costs of fighting the fire are greater than the fire damage. Suppression efforts are limited to keeping a fire within a designated area or protecting critical sites within areas.
- In the 1700's, when Captain Cook entered what is now called Cook Inlet, he found caribou, but no moose in the area we know as the Kenai Peninsula. It is thought that the fires of 1941 burned off the spruce and created the first growth birch, willow, and aspen stands—making the area an ideal habitat for moose.
- There is evidence that the entire 25 million acres of the Copper River Basin all burned at some time, long ago.
- The 1977 Bear Creek fire, near Farewell, burned 345,000 acres. Grass grew up after the fire, attracting bison herds to the area. Land and game managers are reburning to maintain a habitat for the bison.
- In 2013, Alaska had a hot summer; during that year, fires burned 1,319,866 acres. In 2014, Alaska had one of its wettest summers ever; during that year, fires burned 233,529 acres.
- According to game biologists, if there were no fires, there wouldn’t be opportunities for birch, willow, and aspen to grow. All three of these species are staples in a typical moose diet. So, in a weird way, if there were no fires, there would be no moose.
- In Alaska, lightning starts about 400 fires a year.
What about Smoke?
At times, smoke from wildfires can and does drift into populated areas. When you encounter these unpleasant side effects of natural fires, stop and think about the value of fires to the Alaskan ecosystem. If smoke, however, should become health hazard or interfere with transportation, action should be taken. Smoke…
- Is a mixture of particles and gases given off through combustion.
- Has color and other characteristics that change depending upon fuels and the rate of combustion.
- Is transported by winds at all levels, of our atmosphere—not only by ground winds.
- May stay in valleys or river bottoms if there is an inversion.
- Can be from a prescribed fire. If so, it is in accordance with a smoke management plan.
If you are an educator make sure to visit our Statewide Education Kits page for information on how to check out the Fire in Alaska Kit, or kits on many other subjects, for use with your students!