Alaska National Park’s Wildfire Plan

Alaska (KINY) – The Alaska National Park Service is considering a plan to manage wildfire risks in five coastal park units by clearing trees and possibly using controlled burns to protect essential resources.

The proposed plan covers 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 assessment and seeking public input on the plan.

These coastal parks are less prone to wildfires than Interior or northern Alaska parks like Denali National Park and Preserve, where lightning-sparked wildfires are common in the summer. Despite the lower risk, all National Park Service units must have a fire management plan, explained Elizabeth Bella, the lead planner for the Park Service’s Alaska region. The five park units have been grouped for efficiency in planning.

The plan proposes three alternatives. The first is a no-action alternative, which violates national policy and would leave some parks without comprehensive wildfire plans. The second option involves limited mechanical and prescribed fire treatments to create protective buffers around buildings and facilities. The third and more aggressive alternative allows for more extensive clearance of fuels, particularly along Exit Glacier Road in Kenai Fjords National Park and around the Dyea area of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. This treatment could include cutting, thinning, piling, masticating, and prescribed burning of vegetation up to 100 feet from the pavement edge.

Prescribed burning, using controlled fires to clear out vegetation, is a common practice on the Kenai Peninsula, where beetle infestations have killed large numbers of spruce trees. However, the superintendent does not propose prescribed fires for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park unless specially authorized.

Smoke management is also a consideration in the proposed plan. In 2019, smoke from the Swan Lake Fire in the Chugach National Forest drifted into Kenai Fjords, obscuring glacier views and degrading air quality, which affected visitors’ experiences and posed health risks.

The Park Service is seeking public input on the environmental assessment of the proposed fire management plan.