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Forests And Fire: If You Love The Outdoors, This Is The Career For You!

Have you ever thought about getting paid to help protect and manage our forests? Finding your path to becoming a forester with wildland firefighting responsibilities starts with loving the outdoors and, of course, TREES! If this field interests you, it’s never too early to start planning your career.

Besides knowing about trees and forestry practices, you need to learn about other parts of the forest ecosystem. We wouldn’t have trees without soil, so some foresters study soil science. And we wouldn’t have soil without rocks and wind and rain and ice, so some study geology and meteorology. And we wouldn’t have big bucks if it weren’t for properly managed forests, so knowing about birds, insects and all kinds of animals is also important for foresters.

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Did You Know These Things About Fire Season?

Spring Is The Most Critical Fire Season In Wisconsin

March through May, Wisconsin’s snow line recedes, winds and temperature increase and plentiful brown grasses, pine needles and leaf litter receptive to fire across the landscape. This combination is the perfect cocktail for wildfires to occur. Add people conducting spring clean-up around their property by burning yard debris to the mix, resulting in many wildfires. 

Planning For The Weather

For most of us, planning for the weather on any day may mean dressing in layers or carrying an umbrella. Measuring the width of the brown band on a woolly bear caterpillar is considered by some to be more reliable than the TV meteorologist.

Planning for the weather takes on a whole new meaning for the men and women involved in wildfire management. They measure various aspects of weather to help determine the likelihood of a wildfire starting and predict how it will behave.

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Know Your Wildfire Risk

Research shows that both homes and their immediate surroundings play a critical role in a home surviving a wildfire. Your home’s building materials, design and landscape choices can increase risks of your home igniting during a wildfire. If a wildfire burns near your home, its intensity can be reduced or even stopped if “fuel” on your property is managed.

To prepare your home and the area around your home,  start with the house and then move into the landscaping. The “home ignition zone” is your home and surroundings out 100-200 feet. Often, a person’s home ignition zone overlaps with their neighbor’s property. In those cases, it’s important to work together to reduce the shared wildfire risk.

Consider these wildfire risk reduction home and landscape guidelines to reduce or change the fuels in your home ignition zone.

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Fire: Keep It Safe – Keep It Clean

State regulations allow individual households to burn small amounts of dry, household rubbish which includes only unrecyclable paper and cardboard, natural fibers, clean, untreated wood and similar materials, and small quantities of dry leaves and plant clippings unless prohibited by local ordinance.

However, fire officials caution that the open burning of many materials produce a variety of air pollutants that is unhealthy for your or your neighbors to inhale. In addition, debris burning is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin, accounting for nearly 30% of the state’s wildfires each year.

If burning is the only option for yard waste, burning permits may be required to burn yard debris piles or for broadcast burning any time the ground is not entirely snow-covered. Permits ensure legal and responsible burning with minimal wildfire risk.

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Will A Fire Truck Fit Down Your Driveway?

In the event of a wildfire in your area, firefighters may need to reach your home. If firefighters cannot safely access your home, they will find an alternative way to get to you that may take longer – and when fighting fire, every second counts.

Help Firefighters Reach You

You are the first line of defense when it comes to helping your home survive a wildfire. To enable firefighters and other emergency vehicles to locate and reach your residence quickly it’s important to establish a safe route with adequate driveway access.

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Fighting Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are a major threat to Wisconsin’s forests, highlighted in the forest health chapter of Wisconsin’s Forest Action Plan. Invasive plants limit tree regeneration, reduce plant diversity and increase management costs. Recent Forest Inventory and Analysis data from the USDA Forest Service found that more than half of forest sites surveyed in Wisconsin had two or more invasive plant species. Forest landowners should learn to recognize common invasive plants like buckthorns, honeysuckles and garlic mustard. Mobile applications are a handy tool for landowners to learn to identify the plant species in their woods (e.g., PlantNet, iNaturalist) and report invasives (e.g., EDDMapS). For information about the regulated invasive plants in Wisconsin visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Terrestrial Invasive Species page.

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Climate Impacts On Forest Insects

Climate change may impact forest insects in a variety of ways that will likely put stress on the forest. Warmer temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, more frequent extreme weather events and longer growing seasons are a few consequences of climate change that may shape the effects of insects in future forests. A changing climate may impact insects as:

  • Warmer temperatures accelerate larval development and increase insect populations.
  • Extended growing seasons allow for more generations of insects each year.
  • Altered leaf chemistry modifies insect host plant preferences.
  • Extreme weather events damage and stress forests, resulting in attacks by native and non-native insects.
  • Warmer temperatures allow insects to expand their range and occupy new areas.

Many examples of insects responding to climate change have already been documented. Two examples are:

1) Mountain pine beetle expanding its geographic range in the western U.S. and infesting a new host tree species during the most recent outbreak; and

2) Eastern larch beetle having an additional generation each year that has resulted in an unprecedented 20-year outbreak in Minnesota. Continue reading “Climate Impacts On Forest Insects”

Statewide Forest Action Plan Strategies

Forest health experts from federal and state government, tribes and universities worked together to create the two goals and numerous strategies featured in the forest health chapter of Wisconsin’s 2020-2030 Statewide Forest Action Plan. Many goals and strategies in other chapters are also relevant to forest health efforts.

These goals are high-level statements about the desired future conditions of Wisconsin forests. The forest health chapter goals are:

  1. Forested land and ecosystem functions are maximized, while losses due to forest health threats are minimized
  2. Forest health threats are identified and managed in a fashion that is adaptive and responsive to multiple values

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Forest Health In The Statewide Forest Action Plan

The forest health chapter of Wisconsin’s 2020-2030 Statewide Forest Action Plan, completed in June 2020, highlights the impacts of insects, diseases, invasive plants and worms in Wisconsin’s forests.

Forest health experts from government agencies, universities and tribes worked together to evaluate these current impacts. They then developed goals and strategies to help the forestry community refine how it will invest state, federal and partner resources to address major forest health management and landscape priorities over the next ten years.

Forest health is a critical component of the plan because native and non-native pests increase tree mortality to a level that negatively affects forest stocking levels, clean water, wildlife habitat and raw material for wood products. This causes economic losses and undesirable management outcomes. Continue reading “Forest Health In The Statewide Forest Action Plan”

Single Tree Selection

An example of single tree selection at work in a forest. Credit: Wisconsin DNR

Single tree selection is a natural regeneration system that was pioneered here in the Lake States. Used primarily in northern hardwood forests, single tree selection is a cutting method designed to regenerate and maintain uneven-aged stands. Single tree selection stands are maintained at each stand entry by establishing or releasing seedlings and saplings, tending trees to enable quality tree development and harvesting mature trees to create growing space for new age classes. To learn more about this regeneration method, check out the Generally Accepted Silvicultural Principles publication.