The U.S. Forest Service plans to burn several areas located around the Echo Trail, northwest of Ely, this spring, including in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The fires are medicine for the forest, clearing away dead and dying vegetation to make way for the living and growing.
Most of the areas being targeted include rocky knobs, which should be exposed by the sun while surrounding areas remain blanketed in snow. The oak trees and blueberry bushes that the fires are intended to promote are further examples of the fire-dependent boreal forest.
The Boundary Waters’ iconic landscape features trees and vegetation that are mostly found farther north – and tolerate if not demand occasional fire.
As forester and researcher Miron “Bud” Heinselman published in 1971, most parts of canoe country burned about once a century before European logging and firefighting. They probably never changed into their ultimate, unchanging end state, a mixed forest dominated by fir, spruce, cedar, and birch.
After a natural fire in northern Minnesota’s ecosystem, a healthier forest grows back from the ashes – like the phoenix.
“A natural fire rotation of about 100 years prevailed in presettlement times, but many red and white pine stands remained largely intact for 150–350 years, and some jack pine and aspen-birch forests probably burned at intervals of 50 years or less,” Heinselman wrote in his seminal paper (PDF) Fire in the virgin forests of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota.
While jackpine need flames to open up their cones and release the seeds, oak and blueberries will be helped this spring by burning away competing brush.
The fires were planned to start between April 14 and 18, with specific plans subject to weather and other conditions. Depending on factors like wind, humidity, snowmelt, and precipitation, the Forest Service might also conduct prescribed burns in open grass and swamps on western ranger districts.