Proper Forest Management Prevents Devastating Wildfires
Forest management is the key to avoiding catastrophic wildfires such as the fires currently raging through Colorado and New Mexico.
In an effort to address the issue of healthy forest management, the NWTF and the USDA Forest Service have partnered on a number of current agreements across the nation. These contracts and stewardship projects safeguard public and private lands against potential wildfires and improve critical wildlife habitat for a wide range of species.
"All of the 30 or so stewardship projects the NWTF is currently working on reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire," said NWTF forester Gary Burger. "There are a lot of isolated areas where there has been no active forest management or prescribed burns in decades. Those areas are very susceptible to catastrophic wildfires."
Western states are particularly susceptible to wildfires because they contain large amounts of public land and the weather is often hot, dry and windy - favorable conditions for wildfire.
Wildfires rage out of control when allowed to spread from low-lying brush into treetops where sparks can help the blaze spread rapidly and cross rivers and other large barriers.
When properly managed, a forest area is thinned and dead timber and natural debris, which act as accelerants during wildfires, are removed. This limits the potential for a catastrophic wildfire in that area. Managed areas will have a typical wildfire move through, scorching the ground but leaving the large, mature trees intact. These fires are more easily contained.
Wildfires on managed ground actually help regenerate habitat and serve as a boon for wildlife. "It's important to eliminate fuels such as low-lying brush that wildfires can use to spread from the ground into the treetops," said Burger. "Once wildfires spread into a canopy of trees, they are very difficult to get under control."
Curtailing the number of devastating wildfires will require more efforts from public-private stewardship partnerships. With so many of the nation's public forests unmanaged for decades, critical wildlife habitat has disappeared and the risk for catastrophic forest fires has increased.
"We realize the importance of maintaining healthy forests," said NWTF stewardship program director Dave Wilson. "Wildfire is a fundamental problem. One agency is not going to be able to fix it by itself."
"What's going on is terrible," added Burger. "Let's hope awareness of the problem is increased and gets people involved in finding solutions."
The NWTF - a national nonprofit organization - is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation in North America.
Through vital partnerships with state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its members have helped restore wild turkey populations throughout North America, investing more than $372 million to conserve nearly 17 million acres of habitat.
Since its founding in 1973, the NWTF has served as a driving force as the North American wild turkey population has increased from 1.3 million to 7 million.
The Forest Service takes bids for contracts from organizations willing to thin overstocked stands and clear away vegetation, sometimes using intentional, prescribed burns. The purpose is to create shaded fuel breaks, thus reducing the risk of devastating wildfires.
Stewardships awarded by the Forest Service require organizations such as the NWTF to provide a minimum match of 20 percent of the funding of the project. The timber removed to improve habitat and reduce fuel load is often sold, with the proceeds used to defray the cost of the project.
Individuals can help the NWTF safeguard forest lands from wildfires and conserve critical wildlife habitat by becoming an NWTF member and volunteering to work on habitat projects. For more information, visit www.nwtf.org or call (800) THE-NWTF.