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Forest Service hopes to burn federal land on North Arm in next five years

District Ranger for the Kawishiwi Ranger District in Superior National Forest Aaron Kania talks with landowners on the North side of Burntside Lake about prescribed burns

by Parker Loew

On Saturday, the U.S. Forest Service’s Kawishiwi Ranger District gave an update to landowners from the North Arm of Burntside Lake with their plans for the next five years.

The Forest Service has been trying to collaborate with landowners in the area recently because of how much of the North Arm is in extreme fire risk.

“This is one of our higher priority areas right now,” said Kawishiwi District Ranger Aaron Kania.

What worries the Forest Service is the sheer volume of dead balsam fir trees which have built up in the North Arm, and the amount of infrastructure in the area.

“There are so many structures. We’ve got two camps just in this area alone,” Kania said.

The Forest Service hopes to combat the dead balsam fir by doing prescribed burns in the area which will get rid of the dead and fallen timber.

Much of the area the Forest Service hopes to treat with prescribed burns lies on private property, so collaboration with the landowners is a necessity.

“We need to work with these landowners to reduce fuel loads in the forests to protect the infrastructure out there, including camps and private residences,” Kania said. “It would be a win-win for the landowners and the Forest Service.”

In the past, the Forest Service has done smaller prescribed burns in the North Arm area, but the fuel load from the dead and dying balsam has become extreme since the budworm took over.

Some private landowners have been opposed to the Forest Service coming in and treating for balsam fuel loads in the past on their property, but most are starting to realize the potential danger they pose if left untreated.

“I think there’s been a real shift in the thought process when it comes to balsam and fuel loads up here,” said Kania. “If you look at the last 12 years and some of the fires we’ve had and how fast they have moved, it’s scary stuff.”

Landowners have also started to realize how much damage the spruce budworm has been inflicting on the landscape.

“They’re seeing the shift with the spruce budworm and how much balsam we have lost and is out their dead standing,” Kania said.

Luckily, there have been changes in the last few years which allow the Forest Service to more easily work with private landowners to reduce fuel load and fire risk.

“There have been policy changes that have allowed us to work better with private landowners as well as other agencies, including the Good Neighbor Authority and Wyden Amendment,” Kania said.

The Good Neighbor Authority allows the Forest Service to work with the DNR and do timber sales on their land as well as use some of their tools.

The Wyden Amendment allows the Forest Service to agree with private landowners to do prescribed fire by taking legal liability if anything was to go wrong.

Private landowners who want to burn but can’t because of legal liability if the fire was to get out of hand, are now able to get the Forest Service to do it for them.

In the next five years, the Forest Service would like to apply prescribed fire to much of the North Arm to get the fuel loads under control.

If a wildfire was to rip through the North Arm right now, Kania said there isn’t much the Forest Service and firefighters could do to stop it.

“The time it takes for a fire to get through an area we’ve done prescribed burns on versus an area like the north arm which is full of dead balsam is huge,” he said.

The hope is to get enough landowner permissions to do one larger prescribed fire sometime in the fall or early spring to take care of the issue in one go.

Doing prescribed burns on individual plots of land is much more difficult for the Forest Service and costly for the taxpayer, so getting it done in one burn seems like the best option.

“Hopefully we can do this burn sometime in the next five years with landowners’ permission,” Kania said. “We look forward to continued collaboration with these landowners and hope to get these fuel loads under control to reduce wildfire risk and protect these structures.”

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