Ecologist’s perspective on the Keji-area fires

fire, photo by Donna Crossland

“Fire break on the Seven Mile Lake fire made by heavy equipment to remove all combustible material down to bare mineral soil. (Donna Crossland)” Click on photo for CBC story.

Hopefully the heavy rain over the last 24 hours has finally extinguished the fires in SW Nova Scotia.

Donna Crossland, acting Ecologist for Parks Canada at Keji and on a team that has been fighting two of the fires, was interviewed on CBC today about the nature and effects of the fires.

She said that in some cases, fires have burned right down to granite bedrock. Fires occurred at a time when the drought code (referring to topsoil) was highly elevated, so roots, duff, organic matter, and fungal networks burned… the foundation of our forests were very damaged. She said these fires were different from fires occurring at other times, e.g. in spring, which just burn the soil surface. The Keji-area fires burned deep in ground which made them difficult to extinguish: to make fire breaks they have to use heavy equipment to remove all combustible material down to bare mineral soil (see pic).

The interviewer asked about the effects of the fires, citing a common refrain that such fires are good as they regenerate everything. Donna commented that is a common misconception about fires in our Acadian forest. It differs from the boreal forest which has a high frequency of wild fires. Fires were infrequent in the Acadian forest prior to European settlement, occurring perhaps every 500 years. This fire was very damaging, coming in an area subjected to many human-caused fires (after the Europeans arrived), and occurring in SW Nova Scotia which has some of the most nutrient-poor soils in eastern North America. She said that tree growth and recovery will be slowed… it will take a lot of time to re-establish fungal networks for example. Some areas could be set back to a heathland for a period. We will probably see some green-up within next 30 days, but it will be a long time to get back to shade tolerant trees such as hemlock and sugar maple in the most damaged areas.

View print story
Listen to audio of interview with Donna Crossland
View Nova Scotia’s Fiery Past: Why early wildfires ignited by our ancestors should not justify modern clearcutting practices

Postscript: later in the day fire restrictions were finally lifted: Travel and burning restrictions lifted for mainland Nova Scotia.

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