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I went on an interesting hike yesterday.

12/10/09 – I went on an interesting hike yesterday. I hiked through the Sawbill Campground and around our little ski trail with a group of Forest Service employees. There is no part of the Superior National Forest that I am more familiar with, so it was interesting to hear the perspective of the forest experts. It was a multi-disciplinary group, with decision makers, foresters, regulatory experts, fire behavior specialists, wildlife biologists, and a silva-culturist.
The issue, as I understand it, is that by not allowing fire to take its natural course over the last hundred years, we’ve created a different forest then nature would have allowed. Eventually, fire will have its way, but it will likely be a very hot, disastrous fire, rather than the cooler, low intensity fire which was more common in pre-settlement times. This scenario has played out several times in recent years just 15 to 30 miles to our north.
The Forest Service is studying how to meet this challenge with an eye toward long term forest health and protecting the campground from being burned to the ground. The plan is still being built, but it sounds like on the land around the campground they will be removing the understory of balsam fir that has sprouted up in the last 40 years. They call these “ladder fuels” because they provide a fire with a ladder to climb into the tops of the tall pines. They will also remove the old, diseased birch and aspen, leaving the tall and healthy red pine, white pine and spruce.
In the campground itself, they will remove much of the balsam by hand, doing the work in the off season. They are very concerned that campers not be bothered by noise, or shocked by radical logging techniques. This fall they did this type of treatment around their cabin located just north of the campground, so if you’re curious, you can look at that the next time you’re here. They may not be able to stop a big fire, but if (when) there is a major fire, most of the large trees will survive and the Sawbill Campground will be beautiful and healthy for generations to come. – Bill