Fire historically helped maintain biological balance in the prairies and forests surrounding the St. Croix River. It kept many areas from being forested, and promoted plant species that not only tolerated occasional blazes, but depended on them to survive.
Much of it was set by the Dakota people to improve travel routes, hunting grounds, or settlements. When European immigrants started farming here, fire disappeared. Starting in 2005, the National Park Service picked up the torch and started setting fires for ecological purposes.
Each spring, prescribed burns along the river promote native plants and healthy lands. Since then, the agency found more places that could benefit from fire and other ways of restoring natural systems. A new proposal seeks to include additional areas in restoration, guide management strategy for the next 10-15 years, and address some emerging challenges.
The Park Service has identified almost 1,000 acres it considers high priority for prescribed fire, from jackpine barren restoration at the aptly-named Firehill project along the far upper reaches of the St. Croix, to Arcola Bluffs near Stillwater, restoring prairie and oak savanna and suppressing invasive species.
The proposal also lays out plans to address pine plantations. Unlike fire, the thick stands of red pines in neat rows are not a natural part of the ecosystem, and hurt wildlife habitat and the land’s overall health. Little else grows in such forests, and the trees are susceptible to disease. The Park Service’s proposal includes plans to begin removing trees from the more than 20 pine plantations on its lands.
All but two the plantations identified as high priority are on the upper Namekagon River. The other two are on the St. Croix – one at Nevers Dam and one in St. Croix County.
The proposal is open for public comment until April 30. View the plan and comment at this link.