Senator Micciche asks for clarification on Swan Lake Fire Management

In the wake of the Swan Lake Fire, Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Kenai/Soldotna) is requesting a frank discussion on wildlife management policies.

Micciche sent a letter Thursday addressed to Andy Loranger, manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and Francisco Sanchez, Seward District Ranger for the Chugach National Forest, where he raised some concerns and asked for clarification about the management of the Swan Lake Fire this past summer.

In the letter, Micciche questioned the effectiveness of federal wildland policy, which allows fires to burn as long as there is no immediate threat to life and property.

“While this policy seems to make some sense when fires are in remote areas of federal land, it seems to be an imprudent policy when in close proximity to communities,” Micciche said in the letter. “In other words, not all wilderness is created equal.”

The Swan Lake Fire first began on June 5 when lightning struck in a remote part of the refuge. By the end of July the fire was nearly under control at about 102,000 acres, and fire management was scaled back significantly after several inches of rain slowed the growth of the blaze.

In August, a high wind event coupled with record high dryness and heat quickly made the Swan Lake Fire the largest and most expensive fire in the nation, ultimately billowing to over 160,000 acres.

The fire’s expansion filled communities with smoke during peak tourist and fishing seasons, triggered two evacuation warnings for the communities of Sterling and Cooper Landing and prompted numerous closures of the Sterling Highway causing freight delays.

In the letter, Micciche said that his constituents raised concerns to him regarding the management of the fire during the peak of its activity in August.

“Many have asked why the importance of wildlands and wildlife seems to outweigh the importance of human life and property,” Micciche said in the letter. “Now is the time to ask those questions, understand the policies of fire management on federal lands in the proximity of communities and request revisions to those policies with a scalable approach with a priority for human and property safety.”

The Clarion attempted to reach Loranger and Sanchez by phone for comment but did not receive a response from either.

The letter was also sent to all other Kenai Peninsula lawmakers, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and the state Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige.

Micciche requested this meeting to be in early November, and his office has stated that all parties involved have responded positively to the request.