The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness of northern Minnesota, USA, exemplifies how fire management and natural disturbance determine forest composition and landscape structure at a broad scale. Historically, the BWCA (>400,000 ha) was subject to crown fires with a mean rotation period of 50–100 y. Fires often overlapped, creating a mosaic of differently aged stands with many stands burning frequently or, alternatively, escaping fire for several centuries. The BWCA may never have reached a steady-state (defined as a stable landscape age-class structure). In the early 1900s, a diminished fire regime began creating a more demographically diverse forest, characterized by increasingly uneven-aged stands. Shade-tolerant species typical of the region began replacing the shade-intolerant species that composed the fire-generated even-aged stands. Red pine (Pinus resinosa) stands are relatively uncommon in the BWCA today and are of special concern. The replacement of early-to-mid-successional species is occurring at the scale of individual gaps, producing mixed-species multiaged forests.
The USDA Forest Service sponsored research on how fire reintroduction may change the BWCA into the future. Subsequent research examined climate change, CO2 fertilization, colonization, competition, and uncertainty.
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