Study explores how past Native American settlement modified forests

From the University of Buffalo: Study explores how past Native American settlement modified WNY forests.

A new study by University at Buffalo geographers explores how humans altered the arboreal make-up of Western New York forests before European settlers arrived in large numbers.

The research looked at land survey data from around 1799-1814, and used this information to model which tree species were present in different areas of Chautauqua County, New York, at that time.

The analysis placed hickory, chestnut and oak trees in larger-than-expected numbers near the historical sites of Native American villages, said co-author Steve Tulowiecki, who conducted the research as a geography PhD candidate at the University at Buffalo and is now an adjunct lecturer of geography at SUNY Geneseo. This finding is important because these species produce edible nuts, and are also more likely than many other trees to survive fires.

“Our results contribute to the conversation about how natural or humanized the landscape of America was when Europeans first arrived,” Tulowiecki said. “Our society has competing views about this: On one hand, there is the argument that it was a wilderness relatively untouched by man. Recently, we’ve had this perspective challenged, with some saying that the landscape was dramatically altered, particularly through burning and other clearance practices.” [continue]

Starved for fire, Wisconsin’s pine barrens disappear

When humans rush to extinguish every wildfire, wildfires are not the only thing extinguished. From Science Daily: Starved for fire, Wisconsin’s pine barrens disappear.

A century spent treating wildfires as emergencies to be stamped out may have cost Central Wisconsin a natural setting that was common and thriving before the state was settled.

Pine barrens once stretched like a scarf around the state’s neck, from the northeast down across Central Wisconsin and up again northwest to Lake Superior. As recently as the 1950s, University of Wisconsin-Madison surveys conducted by botany Professor John Curtis and graduate student James Habeck described the sandy, open spaces dotted with pin oak and jack pine and dashed with the lavender of lupine and the purple of blazing star.

“We know that the pine barrens used to be common in Wisconsin before European settlement, but now only about 1 percent of the original area remains,” says Daijiang Li, a current UW-Madison botany graduate student. With botany Professor Donald Waller, Li authored a study in the journal Ecology outlining the factors driving a deep shift in the increasingly rare plant communities that once inhabited the Central Wisconsin pine barrens. [continue]

Fort Nelson First Nation uses fire to save bison, limit wildfires

Fighting fire with fire! And also saving bison. From the CBC: Fort Nelson First Nation uses fire to save bison, limit wildfires.

Using a helicopter and a machine that pumps out 100 flaming ping-pong balls every minute, a team from the Fort Nelson First Nation recently took to the air to set fire to almost 3,000 hectares of forest in the Liard River area in northeastern British Columbia.

It’s part of the First Nation’s ongoing efforts to help a threatened herd of wood bison.

“Prescribed fire is very important to keep range land open, as far as the ability to access forage and vegetation for bison,” said Sonja Leverkus, an ecologist working with the First Nation. [continue]

The job of setting large fires for the good of eveything wouldn’t suck.

Smokey got it wrong

From the National Post: Smokey got it wrong.

Splashed with drops of burning fuel gel, trailing from a helicopter concealed by a roiling column of smoke overhead, the giant pines of Mount Nestor fire up like roman candles. A few kilometres away, on the eastern slope of Mount Nestor, Kevin Topolnicki’s team unleashes a necklace of fire from the Terra-Torch — a truck-mounted flamethrower — attacking the trees that survived an earlier air assault.

One of the men on his crew pulls over his nose a faded yellow bandana with a silk-screen of Smokey the Bear. The legendary enemy of forest fires would not be pleased about this arson attack on Alberta’s Spray Valley Provincial Park. But then, deadpans Mr. Topolnicki, duty officer for the province’s sustainable resource development ministry, "Smokey was wrong."

At least, that is the opinion of forest managers in Alberta, who have rediscovered fire in a big way after decades of working to eradicate it from virtually every last tree. [continue]

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