Does Soil Heating from Fire Accelerate Pine Barren Restoration?
A Research-Management Partnership at Moquah Barrens

Research Issue

[photo:] Post-burn effects of a fuel treatment (brush addition) with researcher and instrumentation. USDA Forest Service photo by Brian Sturtevant.

A common feature of pre-settlement ecosystems on sandy glacial landforms throughout Wisconsin were Pine Barrens a fire-dependent “heath” plant community composed of grasses, forbs, low shrubs such as blueberry and sweet fern, and a gradient of pine density from semi-open woodlands to widely spaced trees in savanna and open barrens.  Pine Barrens require fire to regenerate and are declining worldwide primarily due to fire suppression.

The Moquah Barrens Restoration Area, part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is situated on a pre-settlement Pine Barrens area, and like most other similar areas has declined over time due to lack of fire.  This decline is characterized by denser stocking, a closed canopy, and declines in biodiversity of native herbs and grasses. However, the national forest is working to reverse this trend, through restoration treatments that include prescribed fire, thinning and brush-cutting, in hopes of restoring this highly imperiled ecosystem.  

Our Research

Researchers have partnered with the national forest to leverage their extensive prescribed burning and brush-cutting activities on the Moquah Barrens to investigate soil heating during fire and its effects on hardwood regeneration, availability and viability of the seed bank and availability of nutrients affecting soil fertility.  The research is supported by a multi-year grant from the Joint Fire Science Program.  A multidisciplinary team of Northern Research Station and University of Michigan scientists bring a wide array of expertise in fuels and fire severity assessment, vegetation, soils, and soil micro-organisms. A formal liaison from the National Forest assists the principle investigator in coordinating research activities with national forest burn operations staff. 

Expected Outcomes

Through this research scientists hope to work with forest managers to help refine their management prescriptions to more effectively apply burn treatments to restore these areas to their former glory and reestablish the many ecosystem services (wildlife habitat, native wildflowers, berry production, biodiversity and beauty) they provide. The research described here compliments other research-management partnerships occurring within the southeastern part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Research Results

Quigley, Kathleen M.; Kolka, Randall; Sturtevant, Brian R.; Dickinson, Matthew B.; Kern, Christel C.; Donner, Deahn M.; Miesel, Jessica R. 2020. Prescribed burn frequency, vegetation cover, and management legacies influence soil fertility: Implications for restoration of imperiled pine barrens habitat. Forest Ecology and Management. 470-471: 118163. 12 p. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118163.

Quigley, K.M.; Wildt, R.E.; Sturtevant, B.R.; Kolka, R.K.; Dickinson, M.B.; Kern, C.C.; Donner, D.M.; Miesel, J.R. 2019. Fuels, vegetation, and prescribed fire dynamics influence ash production and characteristics in a diverse landscape under active pine barrens restoration. Fire Ecology. 15(1): 15p. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-018-0015-7​.​

Sturtevant, B., K. Quigley, M. Dickinson, C. Kern, R. Kolka, and J. Miesel. Pine woodland and barren restoration: What is possible with late dormant season burns? Lake States Fire Science Consortium Webinar Series. Archived Online Webinar. 18 April 2019.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Brian Sturtevant, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Research Ecologist
  • Kathleen Quigley, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Research Ecologist
  • Matt Dickinson, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Ecologist
  • Randy Kolka, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Research Soil Scientist
  • Christel Kern, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Research Forester
  • Deahn Donner, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Landscape Ecologist
  • Jessica Miesel, Michigan State University, Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, Assistant Professor, Fire and Ecosystem Ecology

Research Partners

  • Last modified: July 24, 2020