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Fond du Lac

Fond du lacEstablished by the Treaty of 1854, the Fond du Lac Reservation is an 112,000-acre reservation located in northeastern Minnesota. On Oct. 12th, 1918 the Fond du Lac Reservation experienced one of the worst catastrophic fires in U.S. history when 250,000 acres of the surrounding areas burned, resulting in the loss of 453 people and the near total destruction of communities like Cloquet, Brookston and Moose Lake. The Reservation is now home to almost 3,500 members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The potential for loss of life and property on the Reservation in the event of a catastrophic fire has increased as the number of people living in this wildland urban interface has risen.

The area encompassed by the Reservation was originally made up of a mix of white, red, and jack pine, aspen, birch, northern hardwoods-conifers, wetlands and wild rice lakes. Heavy logging and a history of fire has led to the current vegetation types consisting of aspen, paper birch, northern hardwood, balsam fir-white spruce, swamp conifer and hardwood. Aspen is the most prevalent cover type and the major commercial species for the Reservation. Much of the aspen is past commercial maturity and the northern part of the Reservation is seeing a decline in aspen due to insects, disease and drought. The paper birch, which makes up the next largest portion of the commercial crop, is also over mature. Finally, the hardwood stands found in the southwestern portion of the Reservation are also in poor condition.

Fond du LacRecognizing the threat that wildfire presented to the Reservation, the Fond du Lac Forestry Office, a branch of the Resource Management Division, began taking steps to protect the resources and population of the Reservation. Large scale fuels reduction projects have been underway for over 14 years and the use of fire for traditional management and fuels reduction has been implemented.

In 1997 the Fond du Lac Reservation assumed fire preparedness activities and protection responsibilities on all land ownerships within the boundaries of the Reservation. The Strategic Wildland Fire Management Plan developed in 1999 listed the following goals for the Fond du Lac Resource Management Division and Forest Management Program:

  • Protecting natural resources by managing wildland fire
  • Meeting Tribal objectives in wildlife, timber, and vegetation management through use of fire under a prescribed fire program
  • Conduction of fire prevention education and assistance programs for Reservation residents
  • Cooperating with the Minnesota DNR, U.S. Forest Service and other agencies in the state-wide fire management program
  • Participating in the MNICS organization

Fond du LacThe Forestry Office had worked hard to develop fuels reduction projects and fire protection but they saw a need for community fire prevention outreach and education. The Firewise program fit the bill with its focus on reaching residents and home owners to teach them about steps they could take to protect their homes from wildfire.

In 2003 the Forestry Office decided to hire a full time Fire Prevention position that was designed to assume responsibility for Firewise program coordination. This position was made possible with assistance from the BIA regional fire prevention specialist. The Student Conservation Association Fire Education Corps (SCA FEC) was also enlisted to help develop and implement a Firewise plan for the Reservation. The plan involved the development of a Firewise Community Board, established in May, which will direct the future projects and define the role of the Firewise Program on the Reservation.

Over the course of the summer of 2003:

  • Six community meetings were held to introduce the Firewise program to Fond du Lac residents.
  • SCA FEC volunteers distributed Firewise information at public events such as Powwows and the Fond du Lac Health Fair.
  • The most critical role of the volunteers was to complete fire risk hazard assessments on all 433 tribal homes and either leave information for residents or spend time one on one with them sharing the Firewise message of defensible space.
  • Visits were made to the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School to share the Firewise message with children.
  • Meetings were conducted with non-band member residents to help them coordinate with Minnesota DNR Firewise representatives.
  • Meetings were conducted with Fond du Lac Housing and Planning entities to introduce Firewise construction and landscaping recommendations.
  • A Firewise building addendum to the proposed Fond du Lac building code was drafted and will be presented for adoption.

Fond du lacOctober 11th, 2003 was the first annual Fond du Lac Fire Prevention Day. This event attracted almost 100 people and included participation from various area fire services, prevention services and educational outreach tables, and fire prevention posters from area elementary schools. Fond du Lac Firewise and Forestry Programs were invited to be part of an upcoming MN Firewise video.

Fond du LacOne of the most exciting projects initiated this summer was a building site preparation at the Fond du Lac Creek Housing Project that is instituting Firewise construction and landscaping practices from the ground up. The Fond du Lac Creek Housing Project consists of 6 proposed home sites and a community park. The project area is a red pine plantation that was taken out of production in order to build. As home sites are being cleared, defensible space is being constructed at the same time. The Fond du Lac Forestry crew is also thinning the surrounding vegetation to increase safety.

Future activities are being planned to continue the success the Firewise Program has had on the Reservation. These plans include:

  • Continued public education and outreach at public events and community meetings.
  • Continued educational programming in the schools.
  • Completing the 60 private fuels reduction projects that were generated from the SCA FEC canvassing and home evaluations.
  • Presenting the 2nd annual Fond du Lac Fire Prevention Day.
  • Discussing and coordinating community projects focusing on road sign improvements, ingress and egress issues, possible dry hydrants for use by local VFD's, continued outreach to non-band member residents on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

 The Fond du Lac Firewise Program received crucial support from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Bureau of Indian Affairs National and Regional Fire Prevention Programs, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Firewise Program, Student Conservation Association Fire Education Corps and many others throughout the development of this program. It is with great enthusiasm that the Fond du Lac Firewise Program looks forward to continuing these partnerships in future endeavors.