Forest Service resumes prescribed fire program, but some fear new rules will delay projects
New rules were designed to preserve the natural beauty of the mountains, protect habitat for threatened species, and minimize impacts to residents and visitors.
The most significant of these rules will go into effect Jan. 1. They were approved in September by the Alaska Board of Land and Natural Resources.
To date, the new regulations for the first time required all Alaska BLM lands with “significant impacts to the quality of the public use” to be subject to prescribed fire.
But the new rules will give the Board authority to postpone or defer that requirement until a specific landowner demonstrates “that it is prudent and appropriate to delay implementation.”
The new rule will allow for the postponement of new proposed burns. So, for instance, for a new proposed burn on a private, Forest Service-administered, federal lands, the Board will now evaluate whether that application should be postponed. The new rules also allow for the deferral of a large-scale, project-wide burn that is scheduled or in the process of being scheduled.
Under the new rule, prescribed burns are defined as “the deliberate burning of a large area of federal, state, private or other federal lands or waters intended to remove or minimize hazardous fuels. This does not include prescribed fires conducted with the permission of a landowner or permittee.”
In addition, the new rules include requirements for how much fuel should be removed and for fire behavior that will be monitored during and after the burn.
There are three types of prescribed burns in Alaska:
1. Landscape-scale burns — these are usually smaller burns that are conducted by BLM-administered BLM (BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management) lands.
2. Project-wide burns — these are fires conducted by the Forest Service and BLM pursuant to the National Wildfire Management Act.
3. Resource-specific burns — these are fires conducted by private owners and are not BLM or Forest Service authorized.
The proposed regulations were adopted in part based on recommendations from a multi-agency task force