Past, present and future of fire in the Apostle Islands

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Part 1 with Damon Panek, Apostle Islands NL “For generations, Native people in the Great Lakes region utilized prescribed fire to improve habitat, increase blueberry production, and clear the understory of vegetation.

These frequent, low-intensity fires promoted fire adapted and dependent ecosystems. The medicines, species abundance and diversity, and foods created are what our Anishinaabe culture is rooted in. Our way of seeing the world was developed here around this lake and with fire,” said Damon.

“Damon integrates Ojibwe culture, language, and history into the park’s education and interpretation curriculum to provide visitors with a unique way of experiencing the islands,” said lakeshore superintendent, Lynne Dominy. “He is also the fire management coordinator for the park and has been able to integrate the traditional cultural practice of landscape burning into the park’s priorities. The overall goal of this integration is to restore a cultural practice and connection to the landscape of the islands.”

Part 2 with Kurt Kipfmueller, University of Minnesota We reconstructed fire history from fire-scarred red pine stumps collected on Stockton Island tombolo to better understand the fire history of the landform. The mean interval between historical fires was ~31 years, though there were many short interval fires detected across the tombolo, particularly in the barrens portion of the landform.

Widespread fires occurred in 1827, 1854, and 1868 and impacted much of the tombolo forest. Additionally, a fire in 1925 burned much of the tombolo forest and the barrens. The barrens appears to have experienced more frequent, but patchier fires, than the pine forests over the 1800s that may have contributed, in part, to the lower density of current trees.

Increment core sampling indicated most red pine trees established following the fires of 1868 or 1925, although there are older trees that predate these fires scattered across the tombolo forest and within the barrens. Fires on the tombolo are contemporaneous with Anishinaabeg use of the landscape and are attributed here to fire maintenance of blueberry habitat. The high frequency of fires in the barrens likely reflects these historical land use practices and is supported by place-based knowledge held within the local Anishinaabeg community.

Presenter Biographies

Damon Panek, Apostle Islands NL

Damon Panek is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of White Earth Ojibwe and works as a park ranger for the National Park Service at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

There, he integrates Native cultural ideas, values, and language into the park’s education and interpretation curriculum to give park visitors a unique way to connect with the resources.

Damon Panek

While serving as the Fire Management Coordinator he spearheaded an effort to reintroduce prescribed fire to an island landscape that Native Americans had managed for centuries. At home, he’s usually busy with cultural life ways such as ricing, fishing, sugaring, hunting, lacrosse stick making, and Ojibwe language revitalization efforts. He has amazing kids and grandkids that inspire him every day.

Kurt Kipfmueller, University of Minnesota

Kurt Kipfmueller

Kurt Kipfmueller is an Associate Professor of Geography, Environment, and Society at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His research focuses on the reconstruction of forest dynamics and disturbance using tree-ring analysis techniques (dendrochronology).

He is particularly interested in developing a better understanding of the relationships between fire, climate, and people in Great Lakes red pine forests. He received a bachelor’s degree in Geography and Earth Science from Central Michigan University, a master’s degree in Geography from the University of Wyoming, and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Arizona.


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