Forest Service to resume prescribed burning of National Forest lands near the BWCA, across the nation
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Forest Service to resume prescribed burning of National Forest lands near the BWCA, across the nation

The U.S. Forest Service is resuming its practice of intentionally lighting fires to clear brush and small trees from forested areas nationwide after a three-month hiatus to review the risks of runaway wildfires under increasingly severe climate conditions, the agency announced in recent days.

The prescribed fire program was put on hold in late May in the midst of a devastating wildfire sparked by the federal government near Las Vegas, New Mexico. The flames burned across more than 500 square miles through remote communities in the southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains.

A temporary ban on prescribed fires on federal land this spring and summer impacted several prescribed fires that were scheduled for Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness earlier this year, according to local Forest Service officials.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore says prescribed burns will require new safeguards such as same-day authorization to keep pace with evolving weather and ground conditions.

He says the Forest Service will adopt mandatory tactics, taken from an in-depth review and public consultation process, that include a more robust scientific analysis of burn plans and a final on-site evaluation of the potential for human error linked to fatigue or inexperience.

Permission to light fires and other communications will be standardized to avoid missteps, amid efforts to learn from the small share of prescribed fires that escape control.

Moore says the agency won’t back away from intentional burns that he sees as a crucial tool in reducing the buildup of combustible material on forest floors and grasslands.

By the end of the year, the agency also wants to expand training not only for Forest Service staff but also community members who could be certified to participate directly in controlled wildfires.

Officials with Superior National Forest were planning a pair of large prescribed burns in the WTIP listening area in May, one near the Sawbill Trail and another near Greenwood Lake in Cook County.

A long winter with an abundance of snow and plenty of rain in late April and early May had wildfire officials in northeastern Minnesota optimistic for a calm start to the season in terms of fire danger

One prescribed fire of about 750 acres was scheduled for an area near Sunfish Lake, not far from Greenwood Lake.

The other prescribed burn scheduled for this spring was the Kawishiwi Lakes fire. It would have been an estimated 2,000 acres in size.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs contributed to this report.