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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Rapai

Wilderness Trail fire impact on KW?


When it comes to the jack pine, it's a double-edged sword. It's great because it naturally occurs here -- it's a natural part of the ecosystem on the outwash plains; it's the way the ecosystem renews itself.

But fire is also a heartless destroyer.

Saturday's fire, dubbed the Wilderness Trail fire for a road that runs east and south of the fire area, burned an estimated acres 2,400 acres. Some of the acreage was jack pine. Other areas were a mix of pines and hardwoods. In some areas the fire was contained to the ground and in other areas, the fire burned complete trees.

We don't know yet if any occupied Kirtland's Warbler habitat was impacted by the fire -- but we suspect there was. In fact, based on a map provided by the Michigan DNR, it appears that the trees we helped to plant during our 2013 Jack Pine Planting Day may have been burned. And we know that as of last year that particular stand was occupied. If there were any nests in there this spring, it's unlikely that they survived.

The adult birds, however, likely escaped and the odds are good that they will try to re-nest elsewhere. There's plenty of habitat nearby. The question is, will they be able to find enough area that isn't already claimed by another pair.

So what happens next? First, everybody is going to take a step back and let out a sigh of relief because it could have been much worse. Had crews not worked to contain the southern flank of the fire, it could have had an impact on businesses and Kirtland Community College on Four Mile Road. And the damage to KW habitat was kept to a minimum.

The Michigan DNR will make an assessment of the burn area to see if any timber can be salvaged. If so, it will be sold off and harvested. If not, the KW habitat will be plowed and either replanted or allowed to regenerate naturally.

In the for what it's worth department, it's likely that more KW habitat will be created by the fire, but it's just too early to say for sure. And the other piece of good news comes from a study done years ago showed that female Kirtland's Warblers preferred to nest in areas that had been burned to areas that are replanted. Fingers crossed there will be some benefit from this.

We wish we had more to share with you today. We'll be working to gather more information and share it with you later in the week.

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