Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) is experiencing a “first” in its fire management program. A lightning-caused fire has been allowed to burn on North Manitou Island, a 15,000 acre island which is located 10 miles off-shore in Lake Michigan. The fire was discovered by backcountry patrol rangers on August 19, and is believed to have started from an August 16 storm. The fire is currently at 1/3 of an acre, and being monitored by fire staff to ensure it continues to meet objectives. Fire spread has been very slow, with behavior limited to smoldering and creeping along the forest floor, and burning deep duff from under tree roots. The fire is being managed for nutrient cycling and natural forest disturbance, where fire is allowed to play its natural role in the ecosystem by burning up years of leaf litter and needle cast, and creating openings in the canopy as trees fall. On the Manitou Islands, the National Lakeshore’s Fire Management Plan includes a provision for managing, rather than suppressing, lightning-caused fires that do not threaten visitor or employee safety or sensitive park resources, such as historic structures. Dan Morford, who serves as the Fire Management Officer for both Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores notes, “This is the first time that a natural ignition, weather conditions, and location have allowed for implementation of this beneficial policy.” For safety, the area immediately surrounding the fire has been closed to visitor access.