By: Steffi O'Brien
Isn’t it interesting that the original work of Bud Heinselman and Sig Olson lives on today? Their passion to understand the boreal forest and promote wilderness values is stimulating new studies with new technology. Bud and Sig were brothers in this search for knowledge. They both made huge contributions to their respective fields. But perhaps more importantly, they both knew intimately the intangible values of wilderness. Bud and Sig would be pleased to see what we can learn from a field of study with the long name “dendrochronology.”
Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Dendrochronology are using tree-rings to help better understand the last three centuries of wildfire in the Superior National Forest’s (SNF) Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The BWCAW is an exceptional example of a fire-adapted ecosystem. No disturbance has played a more integral role in determining the composition, structure, and distribution of vegetation across the BWCAW’s terrestrial landscape than fire. After nearly a century of largely successful fire exclusion, SNF wilderness administrators are seeking greater knowledge on how to best manage and propagate fire within the Boundary Waters wilderness.
Much of our current understanding of fire in the Boundary Waters can be attributed to the research efforts of ecologist and wilderness advocate Miron ‘Bud’ Heinselman. Eighteen years ago, the Listening Point Foundation’s Vice Chair, Charles Wick, thoughtfully preserved a dozen firescarred red pine samples Bud Heinselman collected in the 1970s. The samples are on loan to graduate student Lane Johnson with the U of M’s Department of Geography for dendrochronological analysis. The project is part of a larger, historic assessment of human, fire, and climate relationships within the western Boundary Waters.
For more information on the project, please contact Lane Johnson, Center for Dendrochronology, University of Minnesota; www.umndendro.umn.edu