Fire is a natural process and a key part of a healthy ecosystem. Although fire may appear damaging, it is needed to renew forests and grasslands. Fire removes dead vegetation and recycles nutrients, creating ideal growing conditions for new plants. Over time, a healthy patchwork of plant types and ages will form that is more diverse and able to fight off diseases.
In the past, fire was thought of as negative and was aggressively extinguished within Elk Island National Park. This created an imbalance in the park’s forests and grasslands. Current fire management practice understands the need for fire on the landscape. Parks Canada conducts prescribed fire programs in carefully selected conditions to return fire to the landscape in a way that prioritizes the safety of the people, infrastructure, cultural heritage and neighbouring lands.
A prescribed fire is planned, intentionally ignited and managed. This is different than a wildfire, which is unplanned and often started accidentally or by lightning, and can quickly get out of control.
“Prescriptions” are the conditions and procedures needed to burn safely and effectively. Factors such as weather, vegetation type, moisture levels, terrain, and expected fire behavior are taken into account when writing a prescription. Prescribed fires are conducted to meet ecological goals, such as:
- Reduce dead vegetation and recycle nutrients to enrich the soil
- Reduce the hazardous dead, flammable materials that could otherwise ignite large catastrophic wildfires
- Promote new growth to provide habitat and food for many species of plants and animals
Yearly monitoring is used to determine when and where a prescribed fire will help improve or maintain the health of the park.
Protecting Visitors and Infrastructure
The safety of people, infrastructure, cultural heritage and neighbouring lands is Parks Canada’s number one priority. Prescribed fire is a key process in keeping Elk Island National Park safe and healthy. By removing excess dead and dry vegetation in a controlled way under selected conditions, prescribed fire helps to reduce the risk of wildfires.
Wildfire risk is also reduced through FireSmart operations at picnic sites, campgrounds and historic buildings throughout the park. These sites are cleared of debris and the trees near the sites are trimmed to ensure visitor safety and reduce the potential for accidental ignition of wildfires.
Healthy grasslands support many species of plants and animals. Decades of wildfire suppression has affected the park’s grasslands, allowing surrounding aspen forests to move into meadows and fields. Grassland restoration within the park includes reintroducing prescribed fire programs. After a fire, grassland vegetation grows back at a quicker rate than surrounding forests, allowing the grasses to re-establish. Nutrients are recycled back into the soil, nurturing the plants that grow there and wildlife that eat them.
Planned Prescribed Fires
Annual monitoring of wildfire and prescribed fire activity in the park determines when and where a prescribed fire will help improve or maintain the health of the park.
Weather and environmental conditions are monitored in spring to determine if there is a window that meets the prescribed fire prescription criteria.
These plans may be interrupted due to COVID-19. Visit the important bulletins page for area closures and important bulletins.
Shirley Lake Prescribed Fire
Date: Spring 2020
Size: 219 ha
Location: Northwest corner of the park in the Shirley Lake area
Additional details: The Shirley Lake prescribed fire contributes to the restoration of grassland habitat in the area by returning the process of fire to the landscape. The prescribed fire is scheduled for the spring once specific spring weather conditions have been met.
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