Huge fire on federal lands
This fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota hasn't really gotten the news it deserves. The smoke has already caused air quality warnings as far south as Southern Wisconsin. The fire was started by a lightning strike a month ago.
Current National Forest Service policy is to let natural fires burn themselves out unless they threaten lives and private property. The problem is that there has been an extended drought in the BWCA so the fire was not quenched after a few days by a good rainstorm as is normal. It smoldered on. Then last week the wind began to gust and the fire exploded.
It has now consumed 156 square miles, about 10% of the total BWCA and it is still not contained. Indeed, it could get even worse. The fire has approached a 30 mile long area in the BWCA where in 1999 a freak derecho, a thunderstorm with intense winds, took down countless trees. Since this is a wilderness area, loggers were not allowed to come in and salvage log those trees. At the time the trees came down it was suggested that the federals government would be using a series of controlled burns over the next few years to clear the area so as to reduce the odds of a historic wildfire. Several burns were conducted by the Forest Service but they only involved about 16% of the total blow down area inside the BWCA. Should this fire meet the 1999 blow down area it will find millions of tons of dry deadwood to feed upon.
While they are now fighting this fire in earnest, the weekend weather forecast is not favorable. It will be warm and the southerly winds will tend to blow the fire towards the blow down area.
Once the Forest Service was too aggressive in fighting fires. Now it may be too lax. Certainly fire is part of nature's way of renewing forests, especially certain pine forests, but to allow a fire to burn unchecked for a month during a drought in an area where an unprecedented storm left millions of tons of highly flammable debris around seems an invitation for disaster.
The BWCA is known for its lush pine forests. While these flourish with an occasional low intensity fire to remove competing vegetation and promote new seedlings, they can be destroyed for decades in an intense wildfire that burns everything in its path, including all organic matter from the forest floor. Considering the battles that have been waged in this area since the 1960s between local residents and outside environmentalists, it would be ironic if the best forests in Northeastern Minnesota ended up being on private lands where owners engaged in time honored stewardship activities such as salvaging logging and controlling fires rather than following the latest academic fads.
HT: Hugh Hewitt