Last summer the Parry Sound 33 (PS33) forest fire swept the northern coast of the biosphere region, starting at Henvey Inlet First Nation and spreading to surrounding areas. Reaching almost 12,000 hectares, it was a force that left people worried for not only their homes, but for the plants and animals that also inhabit those lands.
Now a year later, the impact of the devastating burn is actively being assessed. Researchers from McMaster University have started assessing the situation and are looking for community involvement. Professor Mike Waddington has over 30 years of boreal wetland research experience and over 20 years of expertise working with resource and energy companies on boreal wetland restoration.
With a research permit to work within the French River Provincial Park,Dr. Waddington and his team of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students are measuring the impact of the forest fire by setting up study sites within the PS33 perimeter. Specifically, they are assessing the impact of the fire on soil combustion and tree mortality, among other things. As you can probably imagine, the recovery of the landscape, ecosystems, and habitat, is strongly linked to the severity of the burn.
To measure the impact of the burn, there are three indicators that will be used:
1. Water Levels
- Groundwater wells will be installed in lowland wetlands (or vernal pools) at each site and will monitor how water levels respond to drying and wetting.
- Stable water level fluctuations are important for vegetation recovery and reptile overwintering habitat so this measurement will be important in determining how the landscape might recover.
- Whether the soil has become hydrophobic (repels water) will also be measured. This will help determine to what extent mosses are able to regrow.
2. Vegetation Recovery
- Several plots will be set up to monitor vegetation recovery.
- This is an opportunity for residents to monitor landscape recovery in their area if they are interested in actively participating in this research
3. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Exchange
- At one of the sites an Eddy Covariance Tower and Weather Station will be set up to measure how much CO2 the landscape takes up or emits from early spring to late fall.
- This allows researchers to measure the exchange of CO2 between the landscape and the atmosphere continuously – they take 20 measurements a second!
- A similar tower has also been set up in Magnetawan First Nation.
In addition to understanding the impact of the fire, this research will monitor and measure the natural recovery of the landscape and identify actions to accelerate the recovery process.
“We hope that this work will not only inform residents and community members on the landscape recovery process, but also foster hope for the resilience of our ecosystems.” – Dr. Mike Waddington, Canadian Research Chair in Ecohydrology.
Based on the findings from the burn assessment and landscape recovery measurements, the researchers hope to work with community members to regenerate the landscape by augmenting soil and moss recovery, tree growth, and constructing reptile habitat.
State of the Bay will continue to communicate with Mike and his team, and document advancements as more research is done and more information is gained. We hope to post a follow-up later in the summer with findings from their initial assessments.
If you want to follow along with their field work be sure to follow @MACecohydrology on twitter!