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Spring Prescribed Fires Start on the Superior National Forest

USDA Forest Services

Duluth, Minn., April 18, 2024 – The Superior Na­tional Forest has begun spring prescribed burns when weather and condi­tions allow within the two-million-acre portion of the Forest (prescribed burns in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness are planned sep­arately). Prescribed burning often has a narrow window of opportunity, as it is usu­ally conducted in the spring and fall before green up and after green vegetation has died off and vegetation is more combustible.

The Superior NF has pre­scribed fire plans developed to burn up 6,947 acres. How­ever, burning all planned acres depends on many factors such as weather and vegetation conditions, fire staff availability, and other considerations. The early spring drought has also re­duced prescribed burning opportunities.

Why use prescribed burning?

Prescribed fires help reduce hazardous fuel build up and the risk of intense wildfires. In addition, they improve and maintain forest health and wildlife habitat and eliminate invasive species. The meadow and forest ecosystems in northeastern Minnesota are fire-depen­dent and rely on periodic fires to stay healthy. Pre­scribed fire is also cultural­ly significant to the indigenous people of this area.

“Fire is natural, and it needs to be part of the solution. Putting fire back on the landscape will rejuvenate areas needed for indigenous people to exercise their trea­ty rights by creating better habitat to hunt and gather and improve forest condi­tions. We have been burn­ing in this area and across the nation for centuries and we know it works.” –- Damon Panek-Fond du Lac Wild­fire Operations Specialist.

How do we plan?

Prescribed fire plans are proposed and approved through environmental analysis documents (National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA documents), often in conjunction with timber harvest operations. NEPA project pages are available on our Projects webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/superior/landmanagement/projects. Burn plans for each unit define critical safety factors, weather conditions, air quality standards, personnel availability and environmental regulations that must be met. These are continually monitored before the burn proceeds to determine the feasibility of moving forward with the prescribed burn, during and after the burn.

“We were able to do a se­lect few prescribed burns for oak blueberry habitat improvement last month, and now we are waiting until conditions improve to do the meadow burns and oth­er burn treatments such as under-burning and broad­cast burning. Under-burn­ing is low-intensity and targets forest floor veg­etation like brush and small trees. Broadcast burning is a more moderate burning technique that applies fire to specific areas to meet de­sired conditions for forest health objectives. We’d like to use all these options for prescribed burning for spe­cific units to reduce excess fuel build-up,” said Nick Petrack, Superior and Chip­pewa National Forests Fire Management Officer.

Types of prescribed fire projects

Under-burning is a low in­tensity fire that burns be­neath the canopy of live trees. The understory ma­terials that would be con­sumed include small, dead, woody material and live forbs, shrubs and seed­lings. Some live mature trees may be burned, but the intent is to maintain the forest canopy.

Broadcast burning is a pre­scribed burning activity where fire is applied gen­erally to most or all of an area within well-defined boundaries for reduction of fuel hazards, as a resource management treatment or both burn intensity varies throughout the treatment unit depending on vege­tation, fuels, and topogra­phy. These burns create a new stand in the young age class. However, unburned areas or lightly burned ar­eas within the unit may be common.

A site preparation burn is a broadcast burn applied across a harvest unit. Har­vest slash is consumed to reduce fuel hazards to ac­ceptable levels, while duff and brush competition is reduced to acceptable lev­els to promote successful regeneration.

Pile burns are piles of operator slash after harvest or piles as a result of hand piling.

Mosaic burns are done where burn intensity var­ies throughout the treat­ment unit depending on vegetation, fuels, and to­pography, creating a mosaic pattern in the unit.

During active burning, smoke and flames may be visible from roads and areas near the burn unit. Smoke may settle in low areas in the evening hours; however, ignition days and times will be adjusted to avoid smoke sensitive areas. If you have health problems that may be aggravated by smoke, please contact your nearest District Office to talk to a fire management officer. Affected individuals will be notified of prescribed fires that are conducted on Na­tional Forest System lands in their vicinity the day of the burn.

For current maps of pre­scribed fire unit locations, treatment types and acres, please see our Fire and Aviation webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/superior/landmanagement/resourcemanagement/?cid=fsm91_049815.  

Public notifications

Before beginning pre­scribed fires on the Supe­rior NF, fire professionals assess conditions, conduct a test burn and notify lo­cal governments and inter­ested public via email. If a larger burn is planned and it is likely to create visible smoke, is near a road or a community, the Forest will additionally use social me­dia and the Forest website to inform the public about prescribed burn activity. Sign up for general fire in­formation and newsletters on our Superior NF website under “E-Newsletter.”

Safety and monitoring

Trained fire professionals who have studied fire be­havior and fire control tech­niques conduct these burns to ensure the safety of the burn crew, nearby residents, and property.

The “Safety of our firefighters and the public is always our number one priority. We only conduct the prescribed burns if conditions allow. We typically do not com­plete all of the prescribed burns we have planned in a given year because the window for burning is short and conditions must be just right on-the-ground,” Pe­track added.

Benefits of prescribed burning as a forest management tool

Protects communities and infrastructure by reducing hazardous fuels and the risk of high intensity wildfires.

Improves and supports wildlife habitat for many species on the forest in­cluding kestrel, woodcock, moose, white tail deer, black bear, meadow vole and the rare Nabokov blue butterfly.

Limits the spread of inva­sive plant species and main­tains native ecosystems.

Promotes the growth of trees, plants, and wildflow­ers, and the wild blueberry crop.

Continues the historic fire regime of frequent distur­bance by fire.

Preserves the cultural activity of indigenous Treaty Bands in this area.

Drone Use

For the safety of our pilots and firefighters, we ask everyone to refrain from using drones in fire areas. Remember, when you fly, we cannot and it’s illegal. Please keep drones away from wildfires!

Thick, heavy wildfire smoke significantly impairs first responder visibility, and un­authorized drones become unwelcome distractions in an already hectic environ­ment. Yet drones continue to pop up unannounced on wildfires throughout the United States. In 2022, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, re­ported 22 drone encounters on wildfires.

Additional Information

For more information about the status of prescribed fires, please visit the Supe­rior National Forest website (https://www.fs.usda.gov) and sign up for our Forest Newsletter, selecting Public Fire Information. Addition­ally, follow us on Facebook and Twitter/X for updates. If you have questions about planned burns in the Kaw­ishiwi, La Croix or Lau­rentian districts, please call (218)248-2411. For ques­tions about planned fires in Tofte or Gunflint districts, please call (218)387-1750.

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