Alaska Division of Forestry personnel will burn off dry vegetation in two areas around the Delta Junction State Bison Range over the next few weeks. The prescribed burns are intended to improve habitat for bison and other species that live on the range.
State Fish and Game Program Coordinator Sue Rodman says the department wants to conduct the prescribed burns early in the season, after the snow melts off and before green-up, so the fires would burn hot enough to thin out dried vegetation and promote growth of grasses for forage.
“We’re looking at a pretty narrow window to support a hot fire that will kill off the grass and the shrubs, so that we can have fresh grass come back in,” she said in an interview last week.
Rodman says about 3,600 acres will be burned in two large fields on the range from April 17 through early May. She says it’s the first of what Fish and Game officials hope will be regularly recurring burns around the 90,000-acre range that are intended to improve conditions for bison and other animals that live there, including two species of grouse and snowshoe hare.
“We haven’t burned for a few years,” she said, “but we’re trying to renew this pattern of prescribed fires in the bison range.”
Rodman says Fish and Game and Forestry officials don’t expect the fires to generate enough smoke to create a nuisance for Delta, located about 14 miles northwest of the range. Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says firefighters also will try to keep smoke from drifting to the handful of homes scattered outside the range, the closest of which is about a half-mile from the burn area.
“With these prescribed burns, smoke is always a big concern,” he said. “So, we’re doing our best to mitigate that.”
Mowry says Forestry will have up to 14 firefighters on site to manage the burns, along with smaller fire engines and other equipment as needed. He says they’ll be careful to only burn when conditions are right.
“Wind and relative humidity are the two main factors,” Mowry said. “If it’s too windy, we can’t burn; if it’s too wet, we can’t burn.”
The state created the bison range in 1979 to give the approximately 400-head herd an alternative to barging into the cultivated fields in the agricultural area south of Delta Junction.