KESHENA - The Land of the Menominee. And there's a lot of land to protect.
And a unique relationship is helping do just that.
At the ranger station just off of Highway 47, north of Keshena, the Menominee Tribal Enterprises forestry staff is not sticking around.
The workers are moving its truck and bulldozer out into the in the thousands of acres of forest during the daytime hours that wildfires tend to spark up.
The majority of the state of Wisconsin is facing the perfect conditions for wildfires – low humidity, high winds, dry brush and little precipitation.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the fire danger in the majority of the state is still "very high".
More than 150 acres caught fire near a sawmill in Liberty in Manitowoc County Monday. 17 emergency agencies responded to put out the fire.
Here in Menominee County, the MTE forestry staff is in charge of ensuring the 220,000-plus acres of forest stay a forest and the DNR says rain is needed soon to decrease the odds of a fire.
"Conditions are ripe for potentially catastrophic crown fires, as we call them," explained DNR Forestry Supervisor Ron Gropp.
A crown fire is when fire moves through the treetops, ahead of the ground fire.
"Certainly we want to avoid that at all costs," said Gropp.
A tall task
During the fire season, fire spotters are high up in fire towers that peek above the forest canopy.
Their job is to keep tabs on the skyline, looking for out-of-place smoke (which could mean a fire).
But the spotters have a little help in their jobs because of the unique relationship the tribe has with the DNR.
"The goal is to protect the resource," said Ron Waukau, the fire protection manager for the MTE forestry staff.
Waukau says a fully staffed ranger station is made up of just ten men - eight tribal employees and two from the DNR.
Both Waukau and Gropp say the ten man team can respond at a moment's notice, capable of containing a fire until additional fire crews arrive.
Waukau says that good working relationship is possible because of regular fire briefings and constant communication between the DNR and the tribe.
"We'll work together, we'll staff together," explained Waukau.
"The DNR and Menominee Tribal enterprises, we do have a unique working relationship, a very cooperative relationship, particularly in the fire program," said Gropp. "We have resources that we staff up here in Menominee County; MTE also has a number of resources available in the case that a fire does start get going."
"You know in the end, we're all here for one goal," said Waukau, protecting the forest for generations to come.
According to DNR Forest Fire Operations Specialist Ralph Sheffer, the DNR has similar agreements with other tribes in the state. But those agreements are administered through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, not directly with the tribes.
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