Benefits of Fire on Isle Royale

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a jack pine is anchored in rock near Three Mile Campground
A jack pine juts out of the rock shoreline near Three Mile Campground on the Rock Harbor Trail.

Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Knick.

Wildland Fire

Fire can be beneficial in managing the landscape for certain ecotypes across the island. Prescribed, low-intensity burns can be used to clear underbrush that has crowded out species that need direct sunlight to germinate. Fire may also assist in eradicating invasive species that are not fire adapted. Newly created habitat as a result of a wildfire is often valuable to animals looking for new food supplies and protection.

Jack pine is one species present on Isle Royale that has adapted to need fire to maintain a healthy population. Its adaptations include the seed cones only being able to open once it reaches a certain temperature, which can be achieved through fire or direct sunlight on bare mineral soil. Without either of these factors present, jack pine seeds cannot successfully continue to propagate the area, leading to, often times fire resistant, species moving in.

ripe wild blueberries closeup
Ripe blueberries on Isle Royale.

NPS Photo / Paul Brown

Trees are not the only beneficiary of fire, many ground flora have adapted to fire as well. If a low intensity fire moves through the understory of a forest, the ground is cleared of dense brush from the downed trees, and opens up more area for plants to grow.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is one such plant that benefits from the clearing of fire. It does well in the same environment as jack pine, and is often the dominant ground flora species. Blueberry is another beneficiary by utilizing the nutrients that are released in a low intensity fire to produce more berries in subsequent years.

bull moose in the middle of the trail
Bull moose with velvet visible on its antlers.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Morrissey.

Moose on the island benefit from the increased food production that follows a wildfire. Pioneer species, such as balsam fir and aspen are key in a moose’s diet, and they are two species that take advantage of the freshly cleared area of a fire. The downed logs that result from the fire also work to the advantage of protection for the moose. With their long legs, they have an easier time moving through the burned areas than their main predator the wolf, making it a prime location for moose to stay safe while foraging.

Isle Royale National Park

Last updated: March 15, 2021