Restoring ecosystems through fire

Michigan State University scientists are working with U.S. Forest Service fire managers to improve methods to restore barrens.

The damage of a forest post-burn.

Working alongside U.S. Forest Service fire managers in northern Wisconsin who are currently undertaking major projects to restore ecologically significant barrens ecosystems, Michigan State University scientists are improving methods to restore barrens.

Historically, periodic fires have voided barrens of shrubs, grasses and large trees that contribute to ecosystem succession, the process by which barrens transform into woodland. As human management of ecosystems has increased, fires have become less frequent and intense, causing succession to occur at a more rapid pace.

As the importance of fire in both woodland and barrens ecosystems has become more apparent, prescribed burns have emerged as a common tool for forest managers as they work to preserve and restore barrens. Researchers are in the middle of a three-year project to provide managers with more information on the impact of fire on various aspects of the environment, including soil, plant root systems and microbial life.

  • Barrens in Wisconsin have shrunk to one percent of their original area, threatening species.
  • Prescribed burns often fail to heat the soil sufficiently to kill tree roots, allowing them to grow back.
  • Conducting prescribed burns when fires would naturally occur may overcome the soil temperature issue and make them more effective.

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