Firewise Project removes fuel to protect housing developments, forest
The 2003 jack pine budworm infestations and subsequent salvage lumbering operations have left massive heaps of slash on area cutover land. If a grass fire were to occur on these sites, the piles could become fuel for devastating wildfires that co...
The 2003 jack pine budworm infestations and subsequent salvage lumbering operations have left massive heaps of slash on area cutover land.
If a grass fire were to occur on these sites, the piles could become fuel for devastating wildfires that could shoot fire brands and ignite nearby homes. To prevent such catastrophes and protect property, Jerry Stensing, stewardship forester with the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District, under a federal Firewise grant with crews from the Minnesota Conservation Corps, works with landowners to eliminate hazardous accumulations of flammable debris.
This week, the project has focused on a clear cut area on the west side of Beltrami County Road 9. The trees had been cut after they were damaged by budworm, with the loggers leaving the slash piles near a young pine plantation and several housing developments.
"This is ground zero of the 2003 budworm outbreak," Stensing said.
He said 16,500 acres were infested the first year of the outbreak increasing to 48,000 acres the second year.
"The third year, it went in places it had never been heard of before," Stensing said.
The budworm infestation has run its course, Stensing said, but pine bark beetle has now set in. Budworm infestations are a natural part of the jack pine cycle. Before the area was settled, periodic budworm outbreaks would be followed by forest fires and eventual regrowth of the forest. However, with hundreds of homes tucked away in the pines, fires would cause disastrous property loss and potential loss of life.
Stensing said eight homes within half a mile of this week's burn project would be in immediate danger. In addition, a trailer court is nearby, along with a new cul de sac housing development serviced by a single road in and out.
"There are probably 100 homes that are at risk because of this," Stensing said of the slash piles. "This is such a neat project because it has such a big impact and protects so many families."
In addition to burning the slash piles, he said the crews would also thin the adjacent pine plantation.
Stensing said he has worried about the particular site on County Road 9 for months, because of the proximity of homes and the size of the piles. He did some sleuthing to obtain permission from the land owners. That job was more difficult than usual because there are three owners, one of whom lives in Missouri, and the properties have changed hands recently.
The Firewise grant pays the landowners half the cost of the burn project. Stensing said the plantation thinning should also produce timber to apply to the cost.
When the ground is covered with snow is the safe time to set the fires. Stensing said he will return to the sites in a few weeks with thermal detection equipment to make sure there are no smoldering remains that could start grass fires in the spring.
"Anything we can do to reduce the fire hazard will make a big impact," he said.
For more information on the Firewise program, contact BSWCD at 755-4339.