The Border Lakes landscape of northeastern Minnesota, United States, and northwestern Ontario, Canada, is dominated by a few major, fire-dependent forest ecosystems, and is owned and managed primarily by government agencies with complex hierarchical structures. The Border Lakes Partnership was created to address direct threats to these ecosystems resulting from the severely altered fire regimes in this 2-million-ha, multiple-owner landscape. Following nearly a century of fire suppression, the fire regime of the Border Lakes landscape has been highly altered from its historical range, and the risk of loss of key ecosystem components is high as a result. The fire regime has departed from its historical frequency (an average return interval of 35 to 100 years) to become a regime with multiple return intervals, and dramatic changes in fire size, intensity, severity, and pattern have also occurred (RMRS 1999). Consequently, the plant species composition and the structure of the forest and other ecosystems have shifted substantially. Without the reintroduction of an ecologically appropriate fire regime or a surrogate management practice that emulates that regime, the jack pine-dominated forest ecosystem, a major part of this landscape, may largely disappear from the Border Lakes landscape in the next 50 to 150 years (Heinselman 1973; Paul Tiné, retired, USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest, personal communication) and others will continue to be highly altered.
Given the human and ecological contexts of the Border Lakes landscape, strategic collaboration among the stakeholders in this landscape will offer many benefits for land management. In order for stakeholders to collaboratively manage land in a particular landscape, both institutional and technical needs must be met. Institutional support for collaboration throughout the agencies is essential both at a local, implementation level and at higher management levels. Sufficient motivation—political will—to work toward common goals must be present and sustained. From a technical perspective, an understanding of the ecology of the ecosystems that dominate a landscape should form the foundation of any collaborative land management effort. In the Border Lakes landscape, the ecological processes that shape the forest ecosystems are a unifying feature of this landscape, and tools for examining the cumulative outcomes of management activities and natural disturbances on forest ecosystems can help members of the Partnership to establish a joint vision for this landscape and identify opportunities for collaboration among stakeholders. The primary goals of this chapter are to illustrate how technical knowledge of and tools for understanding the landscape ecology of this forested region were shared with major public landowners, and to highlight the lessons learned in this knowledge transfer process.
Knowledge transferred in this particular effort included ecological principles and models—specifically, forest ecosystem succession models, an interagency ownership map showing various management objectives, and projections of forest attributes under alternative forest management scenarios derived using the LANDIS software (Mladenoff et al. 1996; Mladenoff and He 1999). A subset of the stakeholders—major public landowners, umbrella groups that coordinate among public agencies and other large private entities, and major nonprofit conservation organizations—were the focus of this knowledge transfer effort. Among this subset of stakeholders, the immediate target audience consisted of natural resource professionals and ecologists within each agency or entity; the longer-term audience for the overall effort included both highlevel decisionmakers and on-the-ground implementers. Members of both the immediate and the longer-term target audiences have been involved in the knowledge transfer process described in this case study.
The ultimate goal of the Border Lakes Partnership is for the stakeholders to collaboratively achieve their shared desired future condition for the landscape; the initial knowledge transfer described in this chapter is the first small step in this much larger and longer-term effort. The conceptual ecological models, maps, and projections of forest attributes were identified, developed, and shared within the Border Lakes Partnership to provide a scientific foundation on which the major public landowners and other stakeholders can build a common desired future condition. The spatial and temporal scale of the overarching desired outcome is broad—it will be a long-term effort, and the geographic scale is millions of hectares. Although the overall project is strategic, the Partnership also expects to identify specific implementation steps later in the process. Given the scope of this project and the number and type of stakeholders involved, participants in the Border Lakes Partnership have recognized that developing and beginning to implement a common desired future condition in this landscape will take years; achieving the desired future condition will take decades.
5.2. BORDER LAKES BACKGROUND 5.2.1. Description of the Border Lakes Landscape
The Border Lakes landscape is located in northeastern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario (Figure 5.1). Through a larger regional planning process that included The Nature Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and their partners, this 2-million-ha landscape was identified as an important area for conservation because it supports several of the forests and other ecosystems that are representative of the larger Superior Mixed Forest ecore-gion (SMFEPT 2002).
Border Lakes landscape
Public land managed for wilderness, biodiversity, or recreation values
'Public land managed for forest production and other values
"Ontario Forest Management Unit boundaries are estimated, and nine First Nations reserves totaling 27 700 ha within the Crossroute Forest are not shown due to data-licensing requirements
Towns (such as Ely and Atikokan) and private inholdmgs within public lands are not shown
Uncategonzed land within the Border Lakes is either owned by local governments or privately owned and managed for various purposes.
1:1 600 000
Minnesota (United States)
Figure 5.1. Overview of the Border Lakes landscape.
The Border Lakes landscape is characterized by near-boreal forest ecosystems interspersed with numerous lakes. The dominant potential natural vegetation across most of this landscape is either jack pine-black spruce forest (Pinus banksiana Lamb. and Picea mariana [Mill.] B.S.P.) or white pine-red pine forest (Pinus strobus L. and Pinus resinosa Ait.) (White and Host 2000; W. Bakowsky, Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre and A. Harris, Northern Bioscience Ecological Consulting, personal communication). The mesic aspen-birch-spruce-fir (Populus tremuloides Michx., Betula papyrifera Marsh., Picea glauca [Moench] Voss, and Abies balsamea [L.] Mill.) forest ecosystem is the primary potential vegetation in the eastern portion of this landscape, whereas jack pine-aspen-oak (Quercus spp.) forest is predominant in northwestern Minnesota.
Fire, wind, and insect outbreaks are the primary disturbances that shape the successional pathways of the predominant forest ecosystems in the Border Lakes landscape. The size, intensity, and frequency of fires historically varied according to the ecosystem type, as well as in response to climatic conditions, fuel loads, topography, and other factors. For example, the average return interval for stand-killing fires in the jack pine-black spruce forest prior to European settlement was approximately 50 to 100 years and ecologically significant fires were relatively large (400 to 4000 ha or more) (Heinselman 1981). Less intense surface fires in the red pine-white pine forests had an average return interval of around 40 years, and ecologically significant fires ranged from approximately 40 to 400 ha. Today, the average fire return interval for these forest ecosystems is significantly longer— approximately 300 to 2000 years across forest types; the average annual area burned is correspondingly much smaller (Heinselman 1981; Ward et al. 2001).
These changes in the fire regimes are a result of fire exclusion and in some areas, a combination of fire exclusion and land cover changes (Frelich 2002; Heinselman 1981; Ward et al. 2001). In contrast, several major blowdown events occurring within the last 30 years were an order of magnitude larger than those documented during the presettlement era (Frelich 2002). Possible reasons for the apparent increase include an increased proportion of older forests, which are more susceptible to windthrow, and more intense storms resulting from global climate change (Frelich 2002). Prior to European settlement, the natural fire and wind regimes created patterns of age structures and species composition that likely limited the extent, intensity, and duration of insect and disease outbreaks. As a result of modern fire suppression, balsam fir is much more abundant and contiguous, allowing spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana Clem.) to spread easily over large areas to create intense outbreaks (Heinselman 1973). Researchers and managers have not yet synthesized sufficient quantitative information on the spread, extent, frequency, and duration of historical insect and disease outbreaks in this region; therefore, changes in the average interval between and geographic extent of insect outbreaks have not yet been quantified.
The interactions among fires, wind damage, and insect outbreaks and their spatial and temporal variation have historically created a mosaic of different vegetation growth stages (after Frelich 2002)—characterized by particular combinations of age structure and species composition—in these matrix-forming forests. ("Matrix" or "matrix-forming" refers to ecosystems that dominate a landscape and thus form the matrix within which other smaller scale ecosystems occur. They occur at scales ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of hectares.) The relative proportion of the different vegetation growth stages has changed dramatically due to a series of historical and ongoing events. Wholesale clearcutting throughout the region from approximately the 1880s to the 1910s created slash loads that subsequently burned in a series of catastrophic, unnaturally extensive and severe fires. Since then, fire has generally been suppressed, and forests have generally been managed for early successional species. With the advent of fire suppression and the management of forests for economic uses, wind and forestry practices now largely determine the mosaic of vegetation growth stages.
Recent land cover classifications in Minnesota and Ontario (MDNR 2002; Spectranalysis Inc. 1999) and other analyses have indicated that early vegetation growth stages of these forest ecosystems are now predominant: a mixture of aspen-birch forest now covers approximately 27% of the entire landscape. Water bodies account for another 25% of this landscape. Late vegetation growth stages of some forest ecosystems, such as the jack pine-dominated forest ecosystem, are also over-represented at this time. In the matrix-forming jack pine-black spruce ecosystem, conifers historically dominated the species composition (71.5%). However, forest inventory analysis and cooperative stand analysis data indicate that the current overall species composition has shifted to 56% conifers and 44% hardwoods (Brown and White 2002). Without the introduction of an ecologically appropriate fire regime or a suitable surrogate management regime, the jack pine-dominated ecosystems may largely disappear from this landscape within the next 100 years (Heinselman 1973; Paul Tine, retired, USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest, personal communication).
5.2.3. Land Ownership and Management Goals in the Border Lakes Landscape
Based on currently available ownership data (BRW Inc. 1999; OMNR 2003a,b, 2004b), approximately 92% of this landscape is owned by public agencies (Figure 5.2). Ownership in the U.S. portion is relatively more complex because of the numerous levels of government (federal, state, county, and municipal) that own parcels of land, and the relative fragmentation of the parcels across ownerships. Federal, state, county, and municipal lands are intermingled, rather than occurring in consolidated parcels. Major public lands on the Minnesota side of the border include the federally owned Superior National Forest, of which the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a part, Voyageurs National Park, and numerous state forests and parks. The vast majority of land in the Border Lakes region of Ontario is Crown (public) land as well, and is composed primarily of Quetico Provincial Park, and
four forest units managed under sustainable forest licenses: the Crossroute, Sapawe, Dog River-Matawin, and Lakehead Forests. Nine First Nations reserves lie within the Crossroute Forest, and First Nations have sovereignty over their land. The pattern of land ownership is relatively simpler in the Ontario portion of the landscape, in part because a single government entity—the province of Ontario—owns roughly 97% of the land and Crown land is broadly divided into fewer, larger units rather than numerous smaller units. As with the First Nations reserves, parcels of privately owned land are embedded within Crown land in this region, but current mapping of the private land is not sufficiently accurate to support precise calculations of its area; however, relative to the amount of Crown land, the total area of private land in the Border Lakes landscape is small. Timber production is a primary management goal on Crown land operated under sustainable forest licenses in Ontario, and in national and state forests in Minnesota. Wilderness areas and parks, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico, are managed primarily for recreation and biodiversity values. Minnesota county and municipal government lands are not highlighted in Figure 5.2, but timber production is a major goal for most of these lands as well. Private lands owned by timber companies are generally also managed for timber production; it is difficult to generalize management goals on other land that is privately owned.
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