Little Granite Prescribed burn for moose habitat is cancelled for this spring

(Sutton, AK) – As part of a statewide program to enhance moose habitat, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is coordinating with the Division of Forestry (DOF) to plan and implement a series of mechanical vegetation treatments and prescribed burns. This spring, the department had hoped to burn a 314-acre unit near Sutton at mile 64 of the Glenn Highway. Weather conditions and the advancement of leaf out did not align and the burn is cancelled for this spring.

Within the Matanuska Valley State Moose Range, this mature stand of aspen would have been burned to stimulate root suckering, thereby creating forage for moose. The hardwood species there now have either grown out of reach of moose or are no longer producing nutritious forage as they have been heavily browsed for years.

Through development of a burn plan, the two agencies worked together to designate objectives and parameters in which a burn could take place. The community’s safety and understanding of the project was addressed through a series of notifications and the local community council meeting. The unit had to be ignited when it would burn hot enough to kill the existing aspen stands so that regeneration would be stimulated. Also, specific weather conditions had to be matched with appropriate fire suppression resources (firefighters and engines) to implement the burn and hold the fire’s perimeter.

While some parts of Southcentral Alaska have been experiencing wildland fires from dry conditions, this planned burn could have been supported by State Forestry firefighters and engines due to the vegetation types within the unit and the low ‘fuel’ loads therein. Aspen and other hardwood forests generally don’t burn easily in Alaska. The low volume of grasses and woody debris on the forest floor combined with the high moisture content of these tree species tend not to carry fire easily like spruce forests do. Implementing the prescribed burn for habitat would have required firefighters to put a lot of fire on the ground to generate the heat needed to kill the mature trees. This situation required warm, dry conditions with low humidity. To provide for a safe burn that can be kept within the designated fire perimeter, wind speed must also be low.

The current weather pattern is expected to continue the high humidity and bring moisture in the coming days. With trees leafing out, the humidity within the forest is held in, further reducing its potential to burn hot enough to kill the mature trees.

While this burn didn’t happen this spring, we expect to ignite this unit in the future, hopefully in 2016. The department and DOF will continue to plan other prescribed burns and forest treatments in the area and across the state.

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Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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