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Spring Prescribed Fires Start on the Superior National Forest

Duluth, Minn. – April 18, 2024 – The Superior National Forest has begun spring prescribed burns when weather and conditions allow within the two-million-acre portion of the Forest (prescribed burns in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness are planned separately). Prescribed burning often has a narrow window of opportunity, as it is usually conducted in the spring and fall before green up and after green vegetation has died off and vegetation is more combustible.

The Superior NF has prescribed fire plans developed to burn up 6,947 acres; however, burning all planned acres depends on many factors such as weather and vegetation conditions, fire staff availability, and other considerations. Early spring drought has also reduced prescribed burning opportunities.

Why use prescribed burning?

Prescribed fires help reduce hazardous fuel build up and the risk of intense wildfire. In addition, they improve and maintain forest health and wildlife habitat and eliminate invasive species. The meadow and forest ecosystems in northeastern Minnesota are fire-dependent and rely on periodic fires to stay healthy. Prescribed fire also is culturally significant to indigenous people of this area.

"Fire is natural, and it needs to be part of the solution. Putting fire back on the landscape will rejuvenate areas needed for indigenous people to exercise their treaty rights by creating better habitat to hunt and gather and improve forest conditions. We have been burning in this area and across the nation for centuries and we know it works."–Damon Panek-Fond du Lac Wildfire Operations Specialist.

How do we plan?

Prescribed fire plans are proposed and approved through environmental analysis documents (National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA documents), often in conjunction with timber harvest operations. NEPA project pages are available on our Projects webpage. Burn plans for each unit define critical safety factors, weather conditions, air quality standards, personnel availability and environmental regulations that must be met. These are continually monitored before the burn proceeds to determine feasibility of moving forward with the prescribed burn, during and after the burn.

"We were able to do a select few prescribed burns for oak blueberry habitat improvement last month, and now are waiting until conditions improve to do the meadow burns and other burn treatments such as under-burning and broadcast burning. Under-burning is low-intensity and targets the forest floor vegetation like brush and small trees. Broadcast burning is a more moderate burning technique applying fire to specific areas to meet desired conditions for forest health objectives. We'd like to use all these options for prescribed burning for specific units to reduce excess fuel build-up," said Nick Petrack, Superior and Chippewa National Forests Fire Management Officer.

Types of prescribed fire projects

• Under-burning is a low intensity fire that burns beneath the canopy of live trees. The understory materials that would be consumed include small down, dead, woody material and live forbs, shrubs and seedlings. Some live mature trees may be burned, but the intent is to maintain the forest canopy.

• Broadcast burning is a prescribed burning activity where fire is applied generally to most or all of an area within well-defined boundaries for reduction of fuel hazard, as a resource management treatment; or both burn intensity varies throughout the treatment unit depending on vegetation, fuels, and topography. These burns create a new stand at the young age class. However, unburned areas or lightly burned areas within the unit may be common.

• Site preparation burn is a broadcast burn applied across a harvest unit. Harvest slash is consumed to reduce fuel hazards to acceptable levels, while duff and brush competition is reduced to acceptable levels to promote successful regeneration.

• Pile burns are burn piles of operator slash after harvest or piles as a result of hand piling.

• Mosaic burns are done where burn intensity various throughout the treatment unit depending on vegetation, fuels, and topography, creating a mosaic pattern in the unit.

During active burning, smoke and flames may be visible from roads and areas near the burn unit. Smoke may settle in low areas in the evening hours; however, ignition days and times will be adjusted to avoid smoke sensitive areas. If you have health problems that may be aggravated by smoke, please contact your nearest District Office to talk to a fire management officer. Affected individuals will be notified of prescribed fires that are conducted on National Forest System lands in their vicinity the day of the burn.

For current maps of prescribed fire unit locations and treatment types and acres, please see our Fire and Aviation webpage.

Public notifications

Before beginning prescribed fires on the Superior NF, fire professionals assess conditions, conduct a test burn and notify local governments and interested public via email. If a larger burn is planned and it is likely to create visible smoke, is near a road or a community, the Forest will additionally use social media and the Forest website to inform the public about prescribed burn activity. Sign up for general fire information and newsletters on our Superior NF website under "E-Newsletter."

Safety and monitoring

Trained fire professionals who have studied fire behavior and fire control techniques conduct these burns to ensure the safety of the burn crew, nearby residents, and property.

"Safety of our firefighters and the public is always our number one priority. We only conduct the prescribed burns if conditions allow. We typically do not complete all of the prescribed burns we have planned in a given year because the window for burning is short and conditions must be just right on-the-ground," Petrack added.

Benefits of prescribed burning as a forest management tool

• Protects communities and infrastructure by reducing hazardous fuels and the risk of high intensity wildfires.

• Improves and supports wildlife habitat for many species on the forest including kestrel, woodcock, moose, white tail deer, black bear, meadow vole and the rare Nabokov blue butterfly.

• Limits the spread of invasive plant species and maintains native ecosystems.

• Promotes the growth of trees, plants, and wildflowers, and the wild blueberry crop.

• Continues the historic fire regime of frequent disturbance by fire.

• Preserves a cultural activity of indigenous Treaty Bands in this area.

Drone Use

For safety of our pilots and firefighters, we ask everyone to refrain from using drones in fire areas. Remember, when you fly, we cannot and it's illegal. Please, keep drones away from wildfires!

Thick, heavy wildfire smoke significantly impairs first responder visibility, and unauthorized drones become unwelcome distractions in an already hectic environment. Yet drones continue to pop up unannounced on wildfires throughout the United States. In 2022, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported 22 drone encounters on wildfires.

Additional Information

For more information about the status of prescribed fires, please visit the Superior National Forest website, and sign up for our Forest Newsletter, selecting Public Fire Information. Additionally, follow us on Facebook and Twitter/X for updates. If you have questions about planned burns on the Kawishiwi, La Croix or Laurentian districts, please call (218)248-2411. For questions about planned fires on Tofte or Gunflint districts, please call (218)387-1750.

Superior NF Fire and Aviation Resource Management Webpage


*Note: Maps and unit lists are currently being uploaded to our website. We apologize for any delays; please stand by.


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