Red pine prescribed fire study: The persistent effects of long-past underburning among various frequencies and seasons

Project #: 99997  –   Updated: September 20, 2012

Project Summary

This demonstration site is located on the Cutfoot Experimental Forest, Chippewa National Forest, just 20 minutes north of Deer River, MN just off State Highway 46. See the map here and GIS-KML file link for further location information.

Take a few minutes to familiarize yourselves by reading the "Field Tour Background" in the Project Documents and viewing the "Video" in the Project Links before visiting the site. Here is a brief description:

Red pine forests of the western Great Lakes region are classic examples of fire-dependent ecosystems that have been affected adversely by decad...

view full description

Location (by county):
Itasca County (MN)

Watersheds:
Mississippi Headwaters

Congressional Districts:
MN District 08

Bird Conservation Regions:
Boreal Hardwood Transition

USFWS Regions:
Midwest Region

Project size:
3.34 miles

Public Access

Site Name Publicly Accessible
Rep II: Cmpts 8-14 Yes
FH 3802 Yes
Rep I: Cmpts 1-7 Yes
FH 3801 Yes
Rep III/IV: Cmpts 15-28 Yes

Full Project Description

This demonstration site is located on the Cutfoot Experimental Forest, Chippewa National Forest, just 20 minutes north of Deer River, MN just off State Highway 46. See the map here and GIS-KML file link for further location information.

Take a few minutes to familiarize yourselves by reading the "Field Tour Background" in the Project Documents and viewing the "Video" in the Project Links before visiting the site. Here is a brief description:

Red pine forests of the western Great Lakes region are classic examples of fire-dependent ecosystems that have been affected adversely by decades of fire suppression. Historically, these forests supported frequent surface fires (every 5–50 years) and infrequent crown fires (15–250 years). Suppression of surface fire in particular has led to a dramatic increase in live fuels and also reduced establishment opportunities for pines. Therefore, prescribed fire is considered a vital tool to reduce fuels and prepare seedbeds for pine regeneration, while maintaining a productive overstory. However, little, if any, long-term studies on prescribed fire in red pine forests exist, so its utility at reducing the build-up of shrubs and sub-canopy trees and facilitating pine regeneration remains poorly understood.

In 1959, the Red Pine Prescribed Burning Experiment was established in northern Minnesota to test the effects of prescribed fire on woody plant composition and structure. The study was designed to test six combinations of season (dormant, summer) and frequency (annual, biennial, periodic) of prescribed fire with no burning. The study was actively treated and measured between 1960 and 1970. Remeasurements of the study in 2005 show that annual summer burns have long-lasting impacts on woody shrub communities, with stem densities substantially lower in this treatment, compared to the others, even 40 years after the last fire. Moreover, several annual summer burns appear conducive to establishment of an eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) component under the red pine, if a seed source is present after the last fire. The other treatments were much less effective at reducing shrub densities or promoting white pine establishment. This study’s 40-year fire-free period highlights that season and frequency are critical factors to designing prescribed fire regimes that create long-term, persistent effects on live fuels and tree regeneration in red pine and similar ecosystems.

Today, you can visit this site and see first-hand the dramatic effects of prescribed fire season × frequency on understory vegetation 40+ years since the last fire. The experiment uses a randomized block design, consisting of three blocks and seven treatments assigned randomly to plots (~1 acre) within each block. Tours typically take place in Replication 2 because it is the only part with a walking trail and treatment plot signs. However all replications are accessible off Forest Rd 3802 as shown on the map and detailed in GIS-KML File link to the right.

Currently, the Northern Research Station (NRS) in cooperation with the Chippewa National Forest maintain this study to evaluate the persistent legacies of prescribed fire. Future work includes quantifying long-term responses of pine regeneration, overstory tree growth, woody encroachment, forest floor and soil properties, and fuels accumulation decades after the last fire treatments. These results will be of interest to a wide array of researchers and managers and will have applicability for understanding long-term persistence of treatment effects in similar ecosystems beyond the Great Lakes region. Recent re-measurements of woody vegetation took place in 2005 and 2010 and are currently under analysis by NRS scientists.

Collaborations are welcome to address other aspects of this long-term study. Scientist-led tours are available upon request and feedback from self-led tours are appreciated. Click on “Send email” to contact us for more information.

Actions

Project Actions
Education Show/Hide details

Outcomes

Is the success of this project's actions being monitored?   No/Unknown