The Chugach National Forest encompasses more than six million acres from the Copper River Delta across Prince William Sound to the eastern half of the Kenai Peninsula. While much of this area enjoys a maritime climate, localized areas of the Kenai Peninsula often experience high fire danger. A long term spruce bark beetle epidemic has left the Kenai riddled with standing dead spruce. Encouraged by the abundant sunshine reaching the forest floor, Calamagrostis grass quickly invades and can grow to five or six feet in height. The Kenai River and the Russian River are world class salmon fisheries that attract thousands of anglers each summer. There are also numerous lodges and private homes and cabins scattered throughout the forest. This combination of factors could spell disaster if a large fire occurred.

The Chugach National Forest has historically had a small number of wild fires each year. This has made it difficult to staff up to handle the potential for the “big one.” Chugach personnel have recently begun investigating the possibility of establishing partnerships with the State and other federal agencies to provide a more effective presence on the Kenai.

The Annual Operating Plan to the Cooperative Agreement with the State of Alaska was recently updated to include plans for a shared interagency coordination center in Soldotna on the western part of the Kenai Peninsula. The Chugach National Forest is currently advertising for two dispatcher positions to be co-located in this State facility. Funding for a Type 2 suppression helicopter is shared by the State and the USFS. Duty Officers for both agencies keep a close watch on fire danger and work together to shift federal and state resources to the east or to the west on the Kenai as weather and fire activity dictates. This practice of “covering for each other” allows both agencies to be as efficient as possible with their relatively small staffs.

It is expected that the interagency center will be fully operational by spring of 2009. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is also looking to enter into the partnership in the near future. By working together the effectiveness of each partner agency will be enhanced.

For more information contact: Ron Haugen, Chugach/Tongass FMO at 907-743-9435 or at rhaugen@fs.fed.us.