, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 396-411
Date: 28 Jun 2005

Simulating the Effects of Fire Reintroduction Versus Continued Fire Absence on Forest Composition and Landscape Structure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Northern Minnesota, USA

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The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness of northern Minnesota, USA, ememplifies how fire management and natural disturbance determine forest composition and landscape structure at a broad scale. Historically, the BWCA (>400,000 ha) was subject to crown fires with a mean rotation period of 50–100 y. Fires often overlapped, creating a mosaic of differently aged stands with many stands burning frequently or, alternatively, escaping fire for several centuries. The BWCA may never have reached a steady-state (defined as a stable landscape age-class structure). In the early 1900s, a diminished fire regime began creating a more demographically diverse forest, characterized by increasingly uneven-aged stands. Shade-tolerant species typical of the region began replacing the shade-intolerant species that composed the fire-generated even-aged stands. Red pine (Pinus resinosa) stands are relatively uncommon in the BWCA today and are of special concern. The replacement of early-to-midsuccessional species is occurring at the scale of individual gaps, producing mixed-species multiaged forests. We used LANDIS, a spatially explicit forest landscape model, to investigate the long-term consequences of fire reintroduction or continuing fire absence on forest composition and landscape structure. Fire reintroduction was evaluated at three potential mean fire rotation periods (FRP): 50,100, and 300 y. Our model scenarios predict that if fire reintroduction mimics the natural fire regime (bracketed by FRP = 50 and 100 y), it will be most successful at preserving the original species composition and landscape structure, although jack pine (Pinus banksiana) may require special management. With limited fire reintroduction, all of the extant species are retained although species dominance and landscape structure will be substantially altered.

If fire remains absent, many fire-dependent species will be lost as local dominants, including red pine. The landscape appears to be in a state of rapid change and a shift in management to promote fire may need to be implemented soon to prevent further deviation from historic, presettlement conditions.