Laramie residents and visitors to Medicine Bow may have seen smoke on the horizon on Tuesday after the U.S. Forest Service began prescribed burns in the Pole Mountain area. The burns were announced in a press release on May 16. Though the smoke may have been alarming, the U.S. Forest Service assures the public that the fires are safe and essential to maintaining Medicine Bow's health. Here's what you need to know about the prescribed burns and how they'll impact Medicine Bow visitors.

What Are Prescribed Burns?

Prescribed burns are manmade, controlled fires used to reduce undergrowth and improve the quality of the landscape and environment, essentially mimicking the effects of natural forest fires. They are critical to forest health in areas where natural fires no longer take place.

Why Does Medicine Bow Need Prescribed Burns?

The press release from Medicine Bow, Deputy Ranger Frank Romero noted that the burns will help "reduce fuel while increasing foraging habitat," in the Pole Mountain area. After the fires, animals will have an easier time finding food, and the risk of fires in the park will lower - which is good news for a forest under perpetual drought.

The Medicine Bow burns are conducted with anticipation of future events in mind. Wyoming's drought has lasted several years, as such the state remains in above normal anticipation of fires in July according to the National Inter Agency Fire Center.However, Mary Bedwell from the U.S. Forest Service notes that "the operations occur regularly regardless of drought conditions." The burns are part of an ongoing effort by the Pole Mountain Vegetation Project since 2014, which seeks to clear over 9,000 acres of forested land in the area to enhance forest health.

How Long Will Prescribed Burnings Occur In 2022?

The U.S. Forest Service anticipates burnings in the Pole Mountain area to continue on and off throughout the spring and summer. The project will consist of burning about 978 acres this season. Burnings will occur only when conducive based on weather and fuel conditions.

How Will Prescribed Burning Impact Visits to Medicine Bow?

Visitors to Medicine Bow will likely see smoke from the burns on I-80, Happy Jack, and from within the park. Loctions and times of burns will vary and may impact where visitors can go in the Pole Mountain area. You can check the Medicine Bow social media pages on Facebook and Twitter for more information in case you plan on visiting the park soon. Additionally, signs will be posted on affected roads to inform visitors of any nearby fire activity.

For more information on the prescribed burns, visit the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests website by clicking here.

Mullen Fire Burn Scars (September 2021)

Over Labor Day Weekend, I tagged along on a hunting trip in Medicine Bow National Forest near Laramie, Wyoming. As someone that grew up 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, I have never gone hunting. Though the experience of hunting was in itself very eye-opening, I think the most fascinating part was that we were in the middle of burn scars from the Mullen Fire in 2020.

Seeing the photos of the fire itself is quite frightening. Watching the firefighters work to put them out is heroic. Yet, it is absolutely haunting to stand in an area where there were trees at one point, and now there are only the broken remains of what was part of a mighty forest.