Do Humans Contribute to Increased Fire in Southcentral Alaska?

A pair of new 2021 papers take different tracks to assess the impact of human activities and anthropogenic climate warming, on fire season in south central Alaska. We still remember how smoke choked the Kenai and Matsu boroughs in 2019, for most of June-August. A University of Alaska team tallies the impacts–in $$, losses, and human health, while also placing the season in a historical context to look for anthropogenic influence. They deemed human influences thus far were less important than weather, but would become more of a factor by mid-century. An important finding was that heating seemed to overpower increased precipitation (over longer timescales): “The effect of warming temperatures dominates the effect of enhanced precipitation in the trend towards increased fire risk.” Read the full paper HERE: Uma S. Bhatt, et al. 2021. Emerging Anthropogenic Influences on the Southcentral Alaska Temperature and Precipitation Extremes and Related Fires in 2019. Land. 2021; 10(1):82.

A second team, led by Princeton scientist Yan Yu, did a different type of analysis and tried to incorporate other factors such as anthropogenic ignitions, population density, and increased conifer biofuels. Although the increased fuels may be largely an assumption in their paper, at least for the Kenai region it is validated by Carson Baughmann’s (USGS) 2020 study: Four decades of land-cover change on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska: detecting disturbance-influenced vegetation shifts using Landsat Legacy data. Yu’s team asserts there is evidence that part of the increase in fire risk is human-caused: “The . . . model indicates a threefold increased risk of Alaska’s [southcentral region] extreme fires during recent decades due to primarily anthropogenic ignition and secondarily climate-induced biofuel abundance.” Read their paper HERE: Yan Yu, et al. 2021. Increased Risk of the 2019 Alaskan July Fires due to Anthropogenic Activity, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 102(1): s1-s7.

What does the 2014 Funny River Fire mean for moose on the Kenai?

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game plans to capture 100 moose in the vicinity of the 200,000 acre Funny River Fire to monitor their response to the changes in vegetation and use of areas with different burn severities.  Past large fires in 1947 and 1969 have generally been thought to benefit moose by providing prime forage conditions during a couple decades after they burn.  Fifty moose will be fitted with GPS tracking collars to monitor movements and sensors to monitor body temperature will be used to see if recently burned areas result in “hotter” moose.  Read more about the planned research and the fire in ADF&G’s November newsletter.

Photo by Thomas McDonnough

Photo by Thomas McDonnough

Fire Improves Bison Habitat for Farewell Herd

Capture-bisonIn 2010 almost 100,000 acres burned around Farewell Lakes–you may recall the “Turquoise Lake” fire.  If you’re interested to see what effect this is having on the Farewell bison herd, check the October 2014 issue of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game newsletter <HERE>.