What's the Best Way to Burn (or Not) Certain Forests Around the Great Lakes? New Program Has Science-based Answers
Ohio State's Charles Goebel leads the new Lake States Fire Science Consortium, a knowledge exchange network focused on fire-dependent ecosystems in the Great Lakes region. (K.D. Chamberlain image.)
Ohio -- Jack pines, which are common in parts of the northern Great Lakes, need
fire to thrive.
the rare and endangered Kirtland’s warbler, which nests only in burned or
otherwise disturbed young jack pine stands in a handful of locations in
Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario -- and nowhere else on Earth.
Both are part
of the same “fire-dependent ecosystem,” a type of biological community that
needs occasional fires in order to persist.
And both and
more should benefit from a new federal project based at Ohio State University
in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest
Service’s Northern Research Station.
States Fire Science Consortium, a knowledge exchange network, has been started to
connect scientists who study
fire-dependent forest ecosystems and how to manage them with the managers who
do the managing. The program’s geographic focus, the Great Lakes region,
includes parts of New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana,
Minnesota and Pennsylvania and parts of Ontario and Manitoba in Canada.
(Video (2:03): Greg Corace, a forester at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, explains using "prescribed" fire in the refuge and cooperative research with Ohio State.)
is “to ensure that the best available science is actually available to
managers,” said Charles Goebel, the consortium’s program director and a forest
ecologist with Ohio State.
It’s also “an
effort to develop and enhance collaborative ties between managers and scientists,
and to identify and respond to any knowledge gaps,” said Goebel, who works at
the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in northeast
'Best Available Science' for Decisions
Land managers sometimes use fire -- in the form of relatively cool, carefully controlled “prescribed” fires -- to improve wildlife habitat, to conserve or restore native plants, or to burn off brush and built-up fuels to limit wildfires.
But sometimes other methods, such as thinning or clearcutting a forest, can achieve a similar end.
a manager chooses, prescribed fire or something else, depends on a number
of factors, such as the type of ecosystem involved, the goal of the treatment,
and the distance from towns, homes and cabins.
in the consortium is that we’re neutral,” Goebel said. “Our goal is not to promote the use of fire
one way or the other. Our goal is to make sure, if you’re a land manager
interested in using fire, that you can find the information you need to make a
decision with the best available science.”
manager comes to us and says, ‘I’m working in a fire-dependent system in
northern Minnesota, and I can’t use fire. What are my options?’ We want to be
in a position to say, ‘OK, this is the best available information we have for
the system you’re in, and these are the fire-surrogate practices that you can
use to achieve a particular management objective on your land.’”
consortium’s website features, for example, news and updates about fire science in the region, a list of coming and archived continuing
education Web-based seminars, a schedule of tours and workshops, and the latest national wildfire risk forecast (pdf).
archived “Science Library”; current and past issues of the consortium’s
newsletter; details on past studies with such titles as “Characterizing Historic
and Contemporary Fire Regimes in the Lake States” and “Effects of Blowdown,
Salvage Logging and Wildfire on Regeneration and Fuel Characteristics in
Minnesota’s Forests”; and a link for users to “Submit a research need.”
Forum for Knowledge, Discussion
provides better access to more information and “a forum for
researchers and managers to discuss the needs and outcomes of research and its
application,” said Greg Corace, a member of the consortium’s administrative
committee and a forester at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan’s Upper
government agency, we’re required to use the best available science in our land
management, even while admitting that land management is an art, guided by
science,” Corace said. “The consortium aids in communicating what’s known, what’s not known,
and what should be a priority for future research.”
sitting at the intersection between scientists and managers,” Goebel added.
“We’re finding out from the managers what they need, and we’re trying to
respond to that the best that we can” through new and targeted studies.
in the consortium include Ohio State and OARDC; local, state and federal
the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;
the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; and the nonprofit Nature Conservancy.
with Goebel is Robert Ziel, the consortium’s program manager based in
Marquette, Mich., who
previously served for 31 years as a fire management specialist with the
Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Species Adapted to Fire
species in fire-dependent ecosystems, which include plants, animals and more, are
adapted to living with fire as a regular disturbance. That is, not only do they
survive occasional fires, they actually do better. They can germinate and
reproduce, show greater diversity, and typically form a more stable community because of them.
fire-dependent ecosystems around the Great Lakes include oak savannas in the
central and southern parts of the region, such as northwest Ohio, and red pine
and jack pine forests in the north, including the burned-over or clearcut jack
pine stands that are essential to the Kirtland’s warbler.
the one-time nearly extinct yellow, black and blue-gray songbird is so
identified with fire-dependent ecosystems that it’s featured in the
who manages some of the nesting areas of the Kirtland’s warbler as part of his
duties, said, “Seney National Wildlife Refuge functions as a de facto land
management/research demonstration area, and the Applied Sciences Program at
Seney attempts to integrate applied research, land management and tertiary
education for the conservation and restoration of native ecosystems.”
this, “One of the aspects of the consortium that has benefitted us is to
advertise our mission and work to potential cooperators,” he said. “The
consortium provides outlets in the form of newsletters, websites and webinars
so that our work can be presented to a wider audience.”
Part of a National Network
States program is part of a wider national network of 14 regional consortia
coordinated by the federal, multiagency Joint Fire Science Program, which,
according to its website, “funds scientific research on wildland fires and
distributes results to help policy makers, fire managers and practitioners make
program’s) mission is to make sure researchers are developing fire science than
can be used on the ground to affect the management of fire-dependent
ecosystems, and what we’re trying to do is help them in that effort,” Goebel
said. “Eventually the entire country will pretty much be covered by these
programs, he said, aim to provide information that is unique, specific and
best-suited to their particular geography.
efforts include the Oak Woodlands and Forests Fire Consortium stretching
southwest from the Lake States region, the Consortium of Appalachian Fire
Managers and Scientists to the southeast, and the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium to the west and northwest.
The Lake States
consortium’s website is at http://lakestatesfiresci.net/.
Learn more about the Joint Fire Science Program at http://www.firescience.gov/.
the research arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and
Environmental Sciences. The center works not just on food and farming but also,
for example, on biofuels, bioproducts, health, nutrition, sustainability and
Charles Goebel, OARDC
Greg Corace, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
906-586-9851, ext. 14