Central Minnesota Fire Education Partnership

Jack pine savannas such as this one near Brainerd, Minnesota, are quickly disappearing.

Burn objectives, Forestview School jack pine savanna, May 2005
  • Hazardous natural fuels reduction. Reduce 10-hr fuels by more than 90%. Reduce 100-hr fuels by more than 50%. Reduce 1,000-hr fuels by more than 10%.
  • Reduce live mid-level canopy cover of hazel (Corylus americana) by 80% to promote propagation of native tallgrass prairie species associated with jack pine savannas, while scarifying the ground through a reduction in litter layer by 70% to promote a new age class of jack pine and oak.

A former Fire Learning Network site in central Minnesota is partnering with a local middle school to reduce fuels and restore portions of the school’s 80-acre forest. To date, a coalition led by The Nature Conservancy has already returned fire to a 14-acre jack pine savanna, and more work is planned.

“I was really impressed with the amount of collaboration, and how quickly this whole thing came together,” said Colin McGuigan, central Minnesota land steward for the Conservancy.

Through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ School Forest Program, 80 acres at Forestview Middle School in Baxter was designated as a “school forest” in 2004. Minnesota has more than 95 such areas, ranging in size from 1 to 360 acres.

During the process of developing its comprehensive management plan for the forest, the school forest committee recognized that the jack pine savanna needed to be restored and that this might also be an opportunity to

  • mitigate wildfire risk to more than 500 nearby residences,
  • increase student safety and
  • introduce students to fire science concepts.

The project happened to fall within the scope of work for the Lake Alexander/Camp Ripley FLN project (see December 2004 FLN Dispatch). So on May 16, 2005 , a multi-agency fire crew, including Americorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) workers, completed what the first of several burns within the school forest.

“We expect that the more than 2,100 students who attend Forestview will begin to see fire from a different perspective” said Kent Montgomery, community-based conservation coordinator for the Conservancy in central Minnesota, and a member of the school forest committee. Students will visit the site this spring to monitor how certain species of plants have responded to the burn. The data they collect will inform future management actions, and the experience will deepen students’ understanding of fire as a natural and necessary disturbance. According to Montgomery, “students will be able to look beyond the smoke and flames and learn first-hand the critical role fire plays in maintaining our dynamic natural environment.”

There were plans to expand fire treatments to other portions of the Forestview school forest in spring 2006. This work will be made easier by the recent donation of a series of cross-country ski trails by the Navillus Land Company. These trails, in addition to being a valuable resource for the school and local residents, will serve as fire breaks for future prescribed fire operations.

The partners working in the Lake Alexander/Camp Ripley landscape plan to work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ School Forests Program to get the word out about this successful venture and to encourage similar efforts at other school forests across the state.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work in Minnesota.


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