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Fire habitat project 

Featuring:Markku Lemola, Heinäjoki Fire department

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Fire habitat project 

sustainable forestry

Habitats for fire-dependent species are created by controlled burnings.

Forest fires are a natural part of succession of boreal forests. Almost all Finnish forests have burnt in some phase of their history, most of them multiple times. Forest fire is a starting point for a new forest stand in natural rotation cycle. Thanks to developed fire control, wild forest fires are small in size and occur very seldom. While this is of course positive news from the forest owners’, safety and climate perspectives, it has also led to a decrease in fire-dependent species.

Artificial burning is a safe way to promote forest biodiversity. It also has a positive impact on nutrient availability in the area, thus accelerating new forest growth. In commercial forests, burning is combined with forest regeneration operations, taking place after final felling. Small-sized fire habitats can be created by burning retention tree groups or sun-exposed esker slopes. The prescribed burning of a regeneration area combines soil preparation for new forest growth and nature management. Restoration burnings of tree stands can be undertaken in carefully selected protected forest sites.

Location matters when selecting sites for burning. The area to be burned must allow for sufficient control measures around it. The exact timing of burning is chosen according to weather conditions and moisture levels. When conditions are either too dry too windy, burnings cannot be carried out due to risk of fire growing out of control. On the other hand, if conditions are too wet, burning will not succeed.

The impact on biodiversity of the burned site can be seen almost immediately. Species dependent on burned wood have adapted to sparsely developing fire habitats and their dispersal ability is thus good. The first newcomers to the burned site are often the false darkling beetle (Phryganophilus ruficollis) and the black fire beetle (Melanophila acuminate). These beetles can be found even while smoke is still present. They have heat and smoke detecting sensors enabling them to spot a forest fire from long distances, even up to 100 km away.

A year after the fire, wood-inhabiting fungi can be found on the site and ground vegetation flourishes as a result of opened seed reserves in the forest soil. Some vascular plants like the Small hardy geranium (Geranium bohemicum) need intense heat for seed germination.

Artificial burnings require careful planning and cooperation between different parties. Landowners, forest experts, volunteers and the fire department work together for its successful and safe implementation. Forest fire projects tend to raise local interest and are widely supported by communities.

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