By John Leonhart, Manager, Land & Resources Department
The 2019 wildfire season was uncommonly eventful on Ahtna land and across the Copper River Valley. Due to changing fire conditions, we can expect future fire seasons to begin earlier, be more intense and last longer than in years past. This chart illustrates the fire history of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park by the total number of acres burned between 1955 and 2017, demonstrating that the danger of a devastating fire in the region has increased greatly over the past decade. The increased fire danger contributes to substantial safety concerns for Ahtna, Inc., our shareholders, and all Copper River Valley residents.
Fires caused by lightning are a natural part of Alaska’s boreal forest and tundra ecosystems. They play a role in maintaining the diverse mosaic of vegetation on the landscape, reducing the risk of more intense fires by breaking up the continuity of fuels, rejuvenating habitat, returning nutrients to the soil, and enabling the growth of new plants. However, human-caused fires, which are most often in close proximity to people and communities, pose a direct risk to public safety and are always preventable.
Ahtna, Inc. is dedicated to maintaining the health and safety of our forests and the communities within the region. People can live compatibly with wildland fire if they are aware of and prepared for local fire conditions. The more populated and closer a community is to fire prone areas, the greater the need for a proactive approach and a community’s involvement in fire risk reduction activities.
It is essential that everyone using Ahtna land be responsible for safe fire practices:
- Locate your fire in a place where it cannot spread
- Use existing campfire sites wherever possible
- Dig campfire pits all the way through the duff layer to the mineral soil or permafrost
- Keep water nearby in case things get out of hand
- When extinguishing a fire, be sure the area is cool to the touch before vacating
In addition to preventing wildfires, the public needs to be vigilant and promptly contact the proper authorities to report fires spotted on the landscape. If a fire is observed, the first course of action is to immediately call 911 to report the fire. Any fires located on Ahtna land should also be reported to the Ahtna, Inc. Land Department in Glennallen at (907) 822- 3476.