MICHIGAN – Hiawatha National Forest Supervisor Cid Morgan recently expressed appreciation for assistance received from Bay Mills Fire Crew. Funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bay Mills Indian Community wildland firefighting crew has contributed to the Hiawatha's ability to expand its fire and fuels programs since 2016.
"They've worked side by side with Forest Service crews on a total of 4,500 acres of prescribed fire. And in fiscal year 2019 alone, BMFC firefighters helped Hiawatha crews implement 2,800 acres of fire and fuels work, " said Morgan.
The BMFC has also assisted in other ways including the creation and maintenance of shaded fuel breaks and removal of invasive scotch pine on National Forest System lands. In addition, the proximity of the Bay Mills crew means they have a short response time when we request assistance.
"During times of high fire danger or in the event of a wildfire, having the BMFC next door has enhanced the protection we have given to timber and other natural resources that are vulnerable to wildfire," said Brenda Dale, Hiawatha's East Zone Fire Management Officer.
The professional, highly skilled Bay Mills crew has also assisted with the ongoing need to provide wildfire trainings. In the past couple years, BMFC firefighters have helped teach 18 entry level wildland fire trainings at the Bay Mills Fire Campus.
"Having their instructors nearby helps us provide the routine fire training needed by Forest Service and partner firefighters, reduces travel time and expenses for training, and reduces pressure on Forest Service trainers," said Dale.
Morgan indicated that the agency is working with the Tribe to continue this partnership.
“The Forest Service looks forward to continuing to work with the Bay Mills Fire Crew in the future. Based on recent changes to the BMFC's funding, the Forest Service is currently helping identify potential options that could sustain the partnership into the future,” she said.
"We are developing a Master Stewardship Agreement that will allow the BMFC to continue its work on the Hiawatha into the future," said Eric Rebitzke, Hiawatha's Fire Management Officer.
So far, funds from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Stewardship are being pooled in order to cover prescribed fire and hazardous fuels reduction work by the 10-person BMFC module, Rebitzke explained. “The Bay Mills Fire Crew strengthens the forest's fire organization, which directly helps us achieve the USDA Forest Service's mission and speaks directly to the key points stated in the USDA Forest Service Chief Forester's 2019 letter of intent for wildland fire.”
Chief Vicki Christiansen stated, "It is more important than ever we remain grounded in our core values of safety, diversity, conservation, interdependence and service, while we foster a safe, respectful workplace where everyone is valued for their contributions. Everything we do—every part of our mission — depends on creating a workplace where each one of us is able to thrive in our work, free from harassment and safe from harm."
Hiawatha and the BMIC have a shared interest in restoring fire as an integral part of natural processes to meet resource management objectives while protecting values at risk: human life, property and resources. Since Hiawatha National Forest lands are part of the 1836 ceded territory, the fire crew's work is a natural extension of the BMIC's historical tie to protecting and managing these lands.