March 26, 2010

An Early Spring

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 3:00 pm

It’s not really news to anyone that our snow is nearly gone and we’re experiencing an early spring.  And I’m guessing that most of you have memories of spring 2007 when the snow left and strong hot winds visited us in early May I’m not sure you can ever be completely prepared, but we’re working on it.  Our fire and mobilization plans are updated.  The Forest Service, Counties, State and Tribal partners have updated and reviewed our Northeast Minnesota Integrated Response Plan.  I’ve just returned from a couple days in Canada where we met and reviewed our action plans with our counterparts in Ontario.  Our remotely operated weather stations are up and operating to provide 24 hour data on weather parameters.  Plus our equipment is being tested and prepared for this early spring.

Probably one of the greatest concerns this time of year has to do with all those grasses and herbaceous plants that grew so well last year are now dead and “cured” which pretty much means dried out and ready to burn.  They start a fire very easily and burn very fast.  Again that’s probably not news to many of you; I’m guessing you already know that is why you see various groups burning the road sides, ditches and fields.  It gets rid of the “flashy” fuels and recycles the nutrients for the growing season. 

Because we’re at least a month to six weeks from “green up” where the fire danger will go down, we’re taking some steps to help us be prepared.  We have several grassy openings in the forest that are maintained in open conditions for some species of wildlife.  Our maintenance plan may include mowing every few years or burning.  This year we’ve started to burn some of those openings with an additional focus other than the wildlife benefits.  I’ve asked our fire crews to run our fire behavior models before each burn to predict the expected fire behavior on the unit.  Then as they conduct the burn, I’ve asked them to take careful measurements of fire behavior as the burn proceeds.  The information will then serve as a tune up for our fire folks to prepare for the season, but will also help us maintain vigilance on the actual fire danger of our forest setting.  We’ll then use that information to help inform the public and make any necessary decisions for the next few weeks.

As of this moment, the grass is burning pretty mildly and the fires are tending to put themselves out when the fire reaches the edge of the forest.  That’s good because that is what our models are suggesting would happen.  However I’m guessing we all know how fast the temperatures can rise, which also means how fast the grass and fine dead vegetation can dry out.  We’ll be watching the temperatures, relative humidity and winds very carefully over the next several weeks and that is what I’m asking all of us in Cook County to do as well. 

So, when you feel that spring has arrived and it just seems like you want or need to go out and have a fire; maybe that is the time to use a whole lot of extra caution.

March 12, 2010

Spring Breakup

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 4:08 pm

It seems that spring comes at least once per year so you would think we should be prepared for it.  The trouble is we’re not that good at predicting just when it arrives.  For most of us that’s not a big deal, but when we’re managing natural resources including gravel roads, the arrival of spring is important.  Or should I say the arrival of breakup or mud season. 

Because our roads are frozen and they do tend to thaw out during this time period, there is a need to put load limits on our roads.  Not a big deal I guess since we work with both the State and the County on the timing of road weight limits and it only takes a couple days to implement those.  But there are the people who make their living in our forests and who use our roads.  As well as having a concern for the roads, we have probably a larger concern for the stability of our forest soils.   Heavy equipment like loggers use works very well on frozen soils but can do some not very nice things during this time of year.

So, with the somewhat sudden coming of breakup there was a flurry of activity where the loggers who work on National Forest lands were rushing to get their equipment out of the woods, plus they kind of wanted to get their harvested wood out as well.  They did so, and our forests are pretty quiet this time of year, waiting for the soils to dry out so woods workers can return. 

Similarly we suspended operations on our hazard tree removal project that was going on near the upper end of the Gunflint Trail.  We needed to get the heavy equipment off from the roads for a while.  I’ll have to add that this operation did leave a bit of unsightly slash along the Gunflint.  It seems those fire killed trees were pretty brittle and the branches easily broke off during the clearing process.  This tells me the trees needed to come down, but it also tells me we’ll need to get some hand crews out to help reduce the slash.  Unfortunately our hand crews don’t come on until the first of May, so I’ll need your patience until then.  By the first of June we should have the shoulders of the Gunflint cleaned up.  That is two and a half months, but I’m hoping that’s not too bad a price if our actions prevent a serious injury.