Copper River Record March 29, 2018
The WISE Lecture Series of 2018 has continued on strong with Fire Ecologist Jennifer Barnes! On February 15th a large crowd gathered at Prince William Sound College in Glennallen for a night learning about fire science and studies Barnes has done right in our back yard in her talk entitled, “Once Burned...Twice Burned: Fire in Wrangell - St Elias.”
Captivating her audience, Barnes explained what an average fire return interval is in Alaska, meaning the amount of time between two fires, and what growth look likes after a fire. Typical growth after a wildfire starts with small plants such as fireweed, followed by shrubs, then birch and aspen groves, then birch and aspen with intermittent spruce trees, and then the area will be dominated by spruce, likely to burn again soon. By looking at the composition of trees and plants in an area, you can guess about how long it’s been since there was a fire there.
Usually it takes between 60-150 years for an area to burn again after a fire. But, since 2004, there has been an increase in areas being burned a second time shortly after a first fire. Barnes has been studying the effects of twice-burned areas all over Alaska, including here in Wrangell - St Elias National Park and Preserve. In Wrangell - St Elias, Barnes discussed an area that burned first in the 2009 and then again only seven years later in 2016.
One major difference Barnes noticed was that after the second fire, green plants and shrubs grew back much more quickly than they did after the first fire there. Researchers are not sure of why this is yet, and are planning more studies. The once burned areas had lots of willow and aspen established, which is great for our moose!
One of the biggest concerns Barnes discussed from the increase in twice-burned areas is that it means that fire managers might have to reconsider tactics they use to fight and control wildfires. Directing a fire towards an area that was recently burned has often been a strategy to stop fires, but now that burnt areas are burning again more quickly, this is becoming more questionable. We certainly look forward to hearing more from Barnes and what her research means for fire safety and control in the future!
A big thank you to National Park Service for helping us organize this lecture and to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company for supporting the WISE Lecture Series for six years now! Thank you to everyone who made it out and we look forward to seeing you at the next lecture!
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.