Day Two: Wildfire Prevention
Today, we arrived bright and early at the Kenai Peninsula Refuge Center. There, we were first introduced to the history of the Kenai Peninsula. Compared to other territories, settlers did not appear in Alaska until the mid to late 1700s. The Peninsula is made up of two different, distinct climates: a boreal forest and a temperate forest. These areas vary in average rainfall and temperature. The boreal forest, on the Western side of the Kenai Peninsula, is more often colder and drier. Due to environmental factors of the boreal forest, the region is very prone to forest fires. By analyzing fire scars on trees, scientists have been able to identify the location and the year of past forest fires. Many significant fires occurred in the 20th century following high numbers of human settlement in 1920s. In 1947, there was a human caused forest fire that burned over 300,000 acres. The Kenai Peninsula experienced a significant drought in 1968 where there was a 60% drop in the available water in the environment. This was followed by the 1969 fire that burnt 86,000 acres. Most recently, the Funny River Fire occurred in 2014 and burnt 200,000 acres of the refuge. The Funny River Fire was important for better understanding the effectiveness of fire prevention in wilderness.
There are a few different types of preventative measures that can taken in order to aid in fighting wildfires. Firebreaks are natural or manmade changes in the environment that change the available fuel. The objective of these firebreaks is to make it so the fire can be better controlled. In the Funny River fire there were three important firebreaks that allowed the fire to be controlled and prevented it from spreading to residential districts. There are masticated firebreaks in which all the vegetation is removed, shaded firebreaks that are thinned areas of the forest and natural firebreaks such as lakes.
Moreover, wildfires are important to the Alaskan ecology. In the aftermath of these fires, new vegetation will grow. Moose are particular fans of the buds found on the juvenile aspen and willow trees. Regardless, wildfire prevention is necessary to protect the communities here in Alaska. It’s the job of both the homeowners and the government to work together in order to fully protect the beautiful land of the Kenai Peninsula.
Jessica Tiner and Kristin Gilbert