Prescribed cultural burn planned for Stockton Island tombolo this fall, weather permitting

Controlled burn in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

September 11, 2023

BAYFIELD, WISCONSIN (National Park Service News Release) –The National Park Service, in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Tribal partners, is planning a 33-acre prescribed fire on Stockton Island (Wiisaakodewan-minis) between September 13 and October 15, if weather conditions permit. This prescribed fire will be a cultural burn; objectives include restoring globally imperiled pine barrens habitat with an emphasis on increasing blueberry (miin) production.

Cultural burns take Indigenous Knowledge, which is a deep knowledge of a place that has been painstakingly discovered by those who have adapted to it over thousands of years, in combination with fire science to fulfill collective goals of wise stewardship.

“It is critical that we recognize the importance of Indigenous Knowledge as we steward these islands, where the Ojibwe nations maintain Reserved Treaty Rights,” said park superintendent Lynne Dominy. “Along with other forest species, blueberries respond positively to fire. Knowing this, local Ojibwe tribes have used fire to promote the blueberry harvest on Stockton Island for centuries.”

Prescribed burn

Prescribed burn – file photo

Interagency fire specialists will burn approximately 33 acres on the northern end of the Stockton tombolo (a sandy peninsula-like feature) to reduce vegetation including encroaching shrubs and trees, promote the growth of blueberries and other native plant species, and improve wildlife habitat. BIA fire specialists will be on site during and after the burn to monitor that it stays within the prescription as determined in the burn plan.

These highly trained specialists will implement the burn only after careful site preparations have been completed and weather and vegetation conditions are assessed. Optimal weather conditions will enable the park to achieve burn objectives and to minimize smoke; too much wind or moisture, or lack of moisture, will affect whether the prescribed fire can take place.

In 2017, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore collaborated with the Red Cliff and Bad River Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa and other Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission member Tribes to conduct the first cultural burn on Stockton Island in many generations, acknowledging the wisdom and cultural practice of using fire (ishkode) within this rare ecosystem. A second burn was conducted in 2021. Both burns have been successful in restoring a more open forest and increasing blueberry production.

While cultural fire is an annual goal at Apostle Islands, it is not always possible due to national fire staffing needs as well as local weather. Park staff are mindful to implement cultural fire during seasonal windows that are consistent with traditional practices and with lower visitation to the islands.

Editor’s note: To learn more about how fire helped to shape Apostle Islands watch “Past Present and Future Roles of Fire,” a video presentation from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Resource Stewardship Symposium.

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