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Elk Island National Park of Canada

Prescribed Burn Program

Fires have occurred in the Beaver Hills for thousands of years as a result of Aboriginal activity and lightning. Aboriginal peoples set fires to discourage the expansion of forests, to maintain a food supply for large animals like bison and as a weapon against enemies. The pattern of fire created and maintained a mosaic of various vegetation types, such as grasslands, wetlands, shrub lands and aspen forest. More recently, settlers used fire to clear land and burn stubble. Following severe drought in the early 1890s, a catastrophic fire blackened the Beaver Hills in 1895.

Elk Island was set aside as a protected area in 1906. National parks traditionally suppressed all fires within their boundaries effectively stopping this natural process. Elk Island National Park was no exception to this policy. During the 1970s, Parks Canada recognized that complete fire suppression was actually upsetting the ecological integrity of fire dependent ecosystems.

A priority of the National Parks Act is "the maintenance of ecological integrity." This is defined as "a condition where the structure and function of an ecosystem are unimpaired by stresses resulting from human activity . . . and that the system is likely to persist."
Management direction recognizes the importance of ecological integrity, and now uses ecosystem-based management to achieve it. This integrates "natural landscapes, ecological processes, physical and biotic components, and human activities, ... to maintain or enhance the integrity of an ecosystem."

More specifically, the National Parks Policy states:

"National Park ecosystems will be managed with minimal interference to natural processes. However, active management may be allowed when the structure or function of an ecosystem has been seriously altered and manipulation is the only possible alternative available to restore ecological integrity."

Source : Parks Canada Guiding Principles and Operational Policies - National Parks Policy, 3.2.3

Parks Canada - Burn Program © Parks Canada / EI9912310038, 1991/10/23
Parks Canada - Burn Program © Parks Canada / EI9912310039, 1991/10/23
Parks Canada - Burn Program © Parks Canada / EI9912310040, 1991/10/23

Further direction outlined in the draft management plan reinforces the necessity to manage and review the prescribed burn program under an adaptive management regime. The adaptive management philosophy provides the flexibility to incorporate the latest information available from the park's monitoring program and other sources of information and research. The use of prescribed fire in Elk Island National Park will continue as a means of maintaining ecological integrity of the lower boreal mixed wood forest dominated by aspen. The focus will continue to be on “maintaining” rather than “restoring” fire and will be guided by an approved Burn Plan.