Alaska National Park Wildfire Plan

Alaska (KINY) – The Alaska National Park Service is considering a plan to reduce wildfire risk in five coastal park units by clearing trees and possibly using controlled fires to protect vital resources.

The proposed plan includes Kenai Fjords National Park on the Kenai Peninsula, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which includes the Chilkoot National Historic Trail, Sitka National Historical Park in southeast Alaska, and Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula. The Park Service is preparing an environmental impact assessment and is seeking public comment on the plan.

These coastal parks are less prone to wildfires than parks inland or northern Alaska, such as Denali National Park and Preserve, where lightning-sparked wildfires are common in the summer. Despite the lower risk, all National Park Service units are required to have a fire protection plan, explained Elizabeth Bella, the senior planner for the Park Service's Alaska Region. The five park units were combined for more efficient planning.

The plan proposes three alternatives. The first is a no-action option, which violates national policy and would result in some parks not having comprehensive wildfire management plans. The second option involves limited mechanical and prescribed fire control measures to create protection zones around buildings and facilities. The third and more aggressive alternative allows for more extensive removal of fuels, particularly along Exit Glacier Road in Kenai Fjords National Park and around the Dyea area of ​​Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. These measures could include cutting, thinning, piling, chipping, and prescribed burning of vegetation up to 100 feet from the roadside.

Controlled burning, or controlled fires to remove vegetation, is a common practice on the Kenai Peninsula because beetle infestations have destroyed many spruce trees there. However, the warden does not propose controlled burns for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park unless special permission is granted.

Smoke control is also an aspect of the proposed plan. In 2019, smoke from the Swan Lake Fire in Chugach National Forest entered the Kenai Fjords, obscuring views of glaciers and degrading air quality, affecting visitor experiences and posing health risks.

The Park Service is asking the public to participate in the environmental impact assessment of the proposed fire protection plan.

Anna Harden

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