The black spruce is dependent on fire for its regeneration. Its cones are sealed tightly with resin. The intense heat of a fire allows the cones to open and release its seeds.
© Parks Canada
Fire—A Source of Renewal
Ecosystems have evolved with fire over thousands of years and depend on it for renewal.
A fire positively affects a forest ecosystem in a number of ways.
- It reduces fallen logs, leaves and needles into nurturing, mineral rich ash.
- It removes the duff layer to expose the mineral soil required by many seeds to grow.
- Fire opens the forest canopy and lets sunlight in to warm the soil, encouraging new growth.
- Fires remove competing species, supporting establishment of new vegetation.
- A fire can improve surface moisture to conditions more favourable to seedling establishment.
Kalmia angustifolia dominates areas that have had low severity fires. © Parks Canada
Fire is a necessary process to allow regeneration in our forests. Fire allows several important species in Terra Nova National Park, including black spruce and red pine to regenerate and encourages new growth.
In a healthy forest, different areas are at various stages of succession. This mosaic of habitats supports a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation.
If no fires occur, or if fires occur and are suppressed, they can lead to the colonization of species such as Kalmia angustifolia in our forests. Kalmia, known as sheep laurel or lambskill, is common understory shrub that sprouts soon after fire. Kalmia prevents the regeneration of other tree species, such as black spruce. It does so by consuming available nutrients, reducing growing space, and by releasing chemical compounds into the soil that inhibit the growth and establishment of other species. This leads to the formation of kalmia heaths, or areas that are dominated by kalmia.
All but the most severe fires enhance the growth of kalmia heaths. Therefore, fires that have severe burns result in the reduction of the duff layer which is needed to prevent kalmia heaths.
Terra Nova National Park
A long history of fire suppression in Terra Nova National Park before and after its establishment has altered natural forest processes.
Today as much as 85% of the parks forested ecosystems are 100 years old or more. Some trees are as old as 240 years.
Terra Nova National Park is lacking forest stands in early and middle stages of succession. These younger stands would support wildlife types other than those in older stands.
Without variety in habitat, the forest is unable to support many of its native plant and animal species.
To ensure ecological integrity Terra Nova National Park is reintroducing fire to its forest ecosystem.
Palm warbler and young pin cherry. © Parks Canada
A prescribed fire sets out conditions and procedures necessary to burn safely and to meet ecological objectives. These controlled fires mimic a natural fire in a way that positively influences forest regeneration, yet is safe for the public, infrastructure and sensitive species.
Human values, weather patterns, fuel conditions, topography, fire behaviour, ecological objectives and fire control capabilities are all incorporated into prescribed fire planning.
Why Not Just a “Let Burn” Policy?
Public safety concerns prevent a complete let burn policy. For a natural fire to be effective at achieving desired results, the climatic conditions must be dry, temperatures must be high and humidity must be low. These conditions present a public safety concern in wildfire.
Terra Nova National Park has been divided into three fire management zones that determine what actions will be taken if a wildfire occurs.
- Only predetermined areas with specific geographical conditions, wind patterns, and appropriate distances from populated areas will have a let burn policy.
- Other areas are controlled zones where only prescribed fires under appropriate conditions and planning will occur.
- The remaining areas are completely excluded from any fire.
Fire Zone Map (PDF, 777 KB)
Prescribed Burn Plans
Should conditions permit, Terra Nova National Park will continue to conduct prescribed burns in the coming years. These prescribed burns will only occur if the weather and fuel conditions outlined in the burn prescriptions are met.
Measuring burn depth.
© Parks Canada