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Prescribed Fires Return to Siberia's Forests
by Rich Lasko

Forbidden Fires: for almost 75 years, prescribed burns were illegal in Siberia.
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For millennia, lightening fires have scoured the Siberian landscape when Russians settled Siberia, human-caused fire followed in their footsteps. Fire opened islands in the ocean of trees as settlers cleared farms and built buffers to protect themselves from sporadic natural fires.

In the 1920s, however, fire use was forbidden in Siberia, a policy akin to the
simultaneous campaign in the United States to stamp out all fire in the woods.

Then, in 1996, crews burned two 123-acre (50-ha) logged sites on the Boyshaya Murta Forest on the east bank of the Yenesei River, an activity not seen in Siberia for more than 70 years. The burns were part of the Central Siberian Sustainable Forestry Project, a joint venture of the Russian Federal Forest Service, the V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forests, and the USDA Forest Service. Since 1997, project crews have burned more than 2,000 acres (800 ha) on 25 different sites to reduce logging slash and promote forest regeneration. Scotch pine has also been thinned and underburned to help protect the village of Yartsevo from wildfire.

An important objective is to trail foresters in safe fire use. In the Krasnoyarsk region, a total of five mobile fire crews received training, including eight foresters who visited the United States. The fire crews then conducted prescribed burns and fire suppression operations.

The project also published two books on prescribed burning, along with a poster and a video on applying prescribed fire to logged sites. Other project components include developing forest plans, creating geographic information systems, and preparing economic analyses to support sustainable forestry.

For millennia, fire-both natural and human-caused-has shaped and reshaped Siberia's forests. Now, the foundations have finally been laid for a return of fire use to the land.

Fire Effects in Siberia's Boreal Forests

Russia's vast boreal forests contain about a quarter of the terrestrial biomass on Earth, making them a vital carbon sink. Dr. Susan Conard, a fire researcher for the USDA Forest Service, is leading a collaborative project to study the effects of fire on these forests. Partners include scientists at the USDA Forest Service's Fire Sciences Laboratory, Rocky Mountain Research Station; the Canadian Forest Service; and the V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forests in Russia. The team uses prescribed burns to simulate wild-land fires, then collects data on the ground and through remote sensing. Insights gained help researchers better understand fire's influence on the carbon cycle. Future payoffs might include improved fire management strategies for Siberia.


Rich Lasko is the Assistant Director for Wildland Fire Use Planning and Systems for the USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, Missoula, MT.

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