The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore plans to conduct a prescribed fire in two areas of the Lakeshore today (Tue, May 23). The areas cover about 500 acres between Pyramid Point and Traverse Lake Road north of M-22. For safety, the Good Harbor Bay Trail will be closed during the burn.
Fire is a tool intended to restore habitat in forested ecosystems in the park. The dry mesic-northern forest and the wooded swale are unique fire-dependent plant communities. A mix of hardwoods and pines, such as jack, red, and white, dominate these dry-mesic northern forests. Wooded swales are low areas between post-glacial ridges. Swales support forested wetlands and a variety of wildflowers. Both are important to the diversity of the Sleeping Bear Dunes ecosystem.
Prior to European settlement approximately 180 years ago, majestic dry-mesic northern forests were common in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Logging and suppression of naturally-occurring wildfires led to the decline of this forest type in the Great Lakes region. Red and jack pine usually rely on fire to regenerate and many of the species found within wooded swales need openings in the canopy for access to sunlight. Without fire as a disturbance, the slow encroachment of hardwood species and shrubs eventually outcompetes the pines, altering community composition and canopy structure. Conserving these remnants of high quality dry-mesic northern forests and wooded swales through prescribed burns will allow National Lakeshore visitors to continue to experience an ecosystem that represents a bygone, wild component of Michigan’s natural history. In addition, burning under controlled conditions will reduce fuel loads and reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildfire in the future.