What grows in the wake of a devastating forest fire?

By Spencer Sterritt
June 23, 2016 - 5:00pm

One year after a massive wildfire ravaged forests near Weyakwin, greenery has returned to the charred ground.

Ecologists and specialists with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment said growth continues because the fire, which covered a sizable region to the boreal forest west of Weyakwin, wiped the soil clean.

“You’re starting fresh,” forest ecologist Michael McLaughlan said at the Weyakwin Fire Protection base today, June 23. “The fire burns off the organic material on the ground, exposing the bare mineral soil for seeds to germinate almost immediately.”

McLaughlan pinpointed the common jack pine tree as a specific species which requires forest fires to grow. Jack pine seeds are held in cones coated with a resin which only melts at 50 degree Celcius temperatures. When a wildfire rages through an area of jack pine, the seeds are released down to the fresh soil and quickly sprout.

Already jack pine shoots stand a few inches tall among the larger burned jack pines in the Weyakwin area.

“When you’re driving by a former burn site from the highway it looks like total devastation and nothing is growing back,” McLaughlan said. “But when you get down on your hands and knees and explore the sites, you can see there’s young regenerating forest. Mother nature has a tremendous capacity to renew the site after a fire.”

Seeing the rejuvenation in the forest is what keeps fire science specialist Chris Dallyn excited to come to work each day.

“You see this flush of new vegetation coming in and know that’s going to help the future health of forests. I get pumped up about it when I’m out there,” he said.

Dallyn said forest fires aren’t good for just revitalizing plant and tree species.

“The remaining trees will still serve a purpose as they start to fall down, break up and go back to the earth,” he said. “Before some of them fall they’ll become (a) habitat for insects and birds as well.”

He said he’s gone into still smoking wildfire sites and heard the intense buzzing of insects burying into the freshly burned wood.

“And then you hear the knock knock knock of woodpeckers coming after those insects, and then larger raptors and hawks. You see wildlife move quickly back into the area,” he said.

Given how the forest around Weyakwin and in northern Saskatchewan was burned clean, forest protection officer Dave Young said they don’t expect a fierce 2016 wildfire season.

“All we can do is rely on what our guys can do, and have our resources in the right place at the right time,” he said. “It all depends on if we get lightning fires and if we react to them in a timely manner.”

 

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