Duck Lake Fire – Five Years Later

Former Pine Area

Often forest or wild fires are looked at as destructive and devastating events. We like to think the best thing is to suppress them, when in reality this leads to the buildup of a huge fuel load making the fires more intense when they do occur. The after math is said to be ugly and dead, when all we see is the charred remnant of the once thriving landscape. I would rather like to suggest that this burning or utter “devastation” of the forest is rather a time and process of renewal and regeneration. In the case of northern Michigan forest, Aspen trees sprout in mass providing food and/or cover for deer and grouse. Jack Pine cones open from the heat of the fire, releasing seeds from the resinous cones that have held them captive for years. The result is a super abundance of young Jack Pine trees that within a few years will host Kirkland Warblers. All of this regeneration is currently playing out in this fire area from five years ago. Possibly within a couple of years the warblers will come.

Deciduous Trees

In the vast acreage that has looked so barren, new life has returned. In the dryer upland areas that were Jack and Red Pine stands before the fire, ground layer plants such as Bracken Fern, Wild Blueberry, Bearberry and Sweet Fern have returned. Blueberries have not just returned but have dominated some areas, even this late in the season I was able to find enough for three days’ worth of pancakes for breakfast. Mosses have also dominated some soil types and situations with large matts of lush green moss. Winter Green and Trailing Arbutus continue to flourish, but most noticeable are the young pine trees. In areas where one side of the road burned and the other side did not and trees remained alive in the burned area, the main difference is the lack of lower mid-level green and vegetation. Lower limbs may have died but not the tops of the trees. In areas with more deciduous trees, seedlings and suckering shots abound of White Birch, Red Maple, oaks and aspens. Along the road and trail cuts flowers have returned. Although there are still many dead pines still standing, they are beginning to fall.

Logged Area

Some areas have been or are currently being logged, giving a more barren look. The burned open or more open areas have higher numbers of pine seedlings. In some cases, the stands are very thick, almost sod like.

Swamp Lakes

The wetlands that were dry at the time of the fire have refilled to over flowing in some cases. Other than the few dead trees in the wetlands, you would not know that there were ever burned and blackened just five years ago. Sweet Gale, Leather Leaf and other shrubs have grown back, none the worse for the wear. At a boggish lake in the Swamp Lakes complex, what was a sea of blackened sticks is now a thriving sea of green with the shrubs, sedges, mosses and other plants that have regrown. Pitcher Plant, sundews, sphagnum mosses, violets, sedges, rushes and many others now once again are thriving. These wetlands are as healthy as ever.

Jack Pine

Yes, it will take time for the older trees to be replace, but this entire area is well on its way to fully recovering with a new vigor. Again, what we tend to see as total devastation and loss, is really an avenue to regeneration and setting back the clock of succession.

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