Delta Bison Range Controlled Burn

A firefighter walks away from an area that has just been set on fire as part of a previous controlled burn on the bison range.

It looks like spring is coming quickly despite the big snows and long winter. Once again, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in partnership with State Forestry is planning to burn the Gerstle and Panoramic fields (between Mile 1408 and 1393 Alaska Highway) in spring 2021. The intent of using prescribed fire in this area is to enhance habitat for bison, although moose and grouse will also benefit. 

Because the snow is melting quickly managers will be ready to go into the field very soon.  Firefighters from State Forestry along with Red Carded staff from ADF&G will use drip torches to ignite the fields. In past years, crews have only had two days maximum to conduct these burns. With so little time between snow melt and green up, crews must act fast to burn a few hundred acres each year.

The area that is being burned consists of grassland habitat intermixed with forested wind rows. Burning the fields will increase the quality and quantity of plant growth. With improved grass production in the fields, bison may be more attracted to the area during fall and winter, yielding a benefit to both hunters and farmers. Burning the forested wind rows within the field panels will encourage regeneration of hardwoods. The prescribed fire is expected to produce an uneven burn across both the fields and the forested areas resulting in a patchy, vegetative mixture to include grass, herbs, shrubs, and high- density aspen stands. Bison and moose will benefit from improved forage availability, while grouse will benefit from the regeneration of varying aged aspen stands.

ADF&G biologists are measuring the different effects of prescribed fires on the bison range. One of those effects is the maintenance of the fields. Without the use of fire, mowing and tilling the fields is the only way to keep woody vegetation in check. These methods are both costly and time consuming. After measuring vegetative regrowth over the last few years, the Delta Bison Range Manager, Clint Cooper, concludes that prescribed fire is a useful tool to maintain the fields in the bison range from the constant encroachment of woody vegetation. 

ADF&G intends to continue to use prescribed fire in the Delta Junction Bison Range later this summer to burn the large, forested islands; at that point, they will be easier to maintain with a mechanical roller-chopper. This will also provide a degree of hazardous fuel reduction for the safety of residents to the north of the Gerstle and Panoramic fields. The spruce island burns will likely be visible from the Alaska Highway; ADF&G will work closely with DEC to monitor winds before an ignition occurs.

For a more in-depth story about prescribed fire on the Delta Bison Range click here

The ADFG web page also has information here.

Consistent with the Delta Bison Interim Management plan, this project serves to balance conservation of bison and hunting interest with local agricultural land use. It is funded in part by the Delta Junction Bison Range management budget with primary funding from the Federal Pittman-Robertson Act, matched by state hunting license and permit fees. 

If you have questions you can contact the project coordinator, Sue Rodman, at (907) 267-2274 sue.rodman@alaska.gov.