Fire plays an essential role in regeneration of the boreal forest. It allows several important native species such as black spruce and red pine to regenerate and encourages new growth. In a healthy forest landscape, forests are at various stages of succession, creating a mosaic that supports a variety of wildlife, vegetation and ecosystem processes.
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.
- Fire opens the forest canopy and allows sunlight to penetrate the forest floor, encouraging new growth.
- Fires remove competing species, supporting establishment of new vegetation.
- Fire allows some species to release their seeds from resin-sealed cones.
- It reduces fallen logs, leaves and needles into charcoal and mineral-rich ash.
- It reduces the thick, organic soil layer releasing nutrients and exposing mineral soil, which is required for seeds to germinate and grow.
- A fire can improve surface moisture making conditions more favourable for seedling establishment.
Fire in Terra Nova National Park
Natural forest processes in Terra Nova National Park have been altered due to a long history of fire suppression. The forest here is lacking tree stands in early and middle stages of succession, with too much representation of over-mature stands. Without this habitat variety, the forests ecosystems are unable to support many of their native plants and animal species.
- The cones of the black spruce are sealed tightly with resin and are dependent on fire to open and release seeds.
- Insects and bark beetles utilize burnt trees and woodpecker species’ move in to take advantage of this food source.
A good indicator of the need for fire in Terra Nova is the abundance of areas dominated by Kalmia angustifolia, or kalmia heaths. Known as sheep laurel or lambskill, this common understory shrub sprouts soon after fire and will rapidly establish in gaps in over-mature forests. Kalmia is a strong competitor, and prevents regeneration of tree species, such as black spruce, by consuming and locking up soil nutrients, reducing growth space, and releasing chemical compounds into the soil that inhibit seed germination, seedling growth and establishment.
Severe fires that dramatically reduce the organic soil layer are required to kill the underground stems of Kalmia, which allows space and time for tree species to establish.
To ensure ecological integrity, Terra Nova National Park is reintroducing fire to its forests through prescribed fires.
Fire and Public Safety
Prescribed fires mimic a wildfire in a way that positively influences forest regeneration, yet is safe for the public, infrastructure and sensitive species.
There are many things to consider when planning for a prescribed fire including human values, weather patterns, fuel conditions, topography, fire behaviour, ecological objectives and fire control capabilities.
Terra Nova has been divided into three fire management zones that determine what actions will be taken if a wildfire occurs. These zones also outline areas in which fire could be prescribed without unnecessary risk to public safety.
- Zone 1: Areas that are excluded from prescribed fire and that receive immediate response to wildfire.
- Zone 2: Areas where fire is limited to a defined perimeter. Prescribed fires permitted under appropriate conditions.
- Zone 3: Areas with specific geographical conditions, wind patterns, and appropriate distances from populated areas for a “let burn” wildfire policy and for prescribed fires.
Prescribed Burn Plans
In Terra Nova National Park, fire teams have successfully conducted 4 prescribed fires.
Should conditions permit, Terra Nova National Park will continue to conduct prescribed fires in the coming years. These prescribed fires will only occur if the weather and fuel conditions outlined in the burn prescriptions are met.
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