|The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is contained within Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. It is the largest roadless area in the eastern U.S., and a true wilderness in every sense of the word. Containing hundreds of ponds, lakes, and streams, it is an area where getting from one place to another usually DOES require a canoe (except in winter, when snowshoes or skis do quite well). The area is located along the southern edge of true boreal forest, and as such most forested areas are conifer-dominated: firs, spruces, pines, cedars, and larches, with pioneer aspen and birch dominant in recently-burned areas. In terms of geology, the area is also perched on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, a vast sheet of granite bedrock that extends across much of eastern Canada.|
| On July 4, 1999, a massive frontal system moved across northern Minnesota,
creating a series of meteorological phenomena called derechos, which are
straight-line winds that in places exceeded 110 miles per hour. This map shows the
damage along the northern portion of the central section of BWCA; the most severe
damage is shown as lavender. More than 400,000 acres of land and water in the
BWCAW were affected, with at least 325,000 acres of forest experiencing damage.
Although > 250 visitors were in the BWCA wilderness on the day of the storm, there were no fatalities and only a handful of serious injuries. While it is tempting to also view the wind damage as a serious "injury" to the BWCAW ecosystem, such natural events -- while causing sudden and substantial change -- are part of the natural rhythm of growth and decay, life and death in a normally-functioning landscape. What is important, though, is that the BWCA landscape has historically experienced most disturbances from fire, and wind has played a minor role over evolutionary time.
|During the summers of 2000 and 2001, I began studies of the patterns of wind damage and vegetation recovery in several sites near Seagull Lake, a large lake along the northern edge of the heavily-damaged area. It is a beautiful and spectacular place; this image shows an undamaged area near one of our sample sites. Seagull Lake is one of the larger lakes in the BWCAW at roughly 8 mile long, and containing > 250 islands.|
|Mornings on Seagull Lake could be breathtaking. This image shows the pre-dawn mist that is dissipating just after sunrise. The vicinity of Seagull Lake has wonderfully clear air and no light pollution, so the view of stars at night was exceptional. Although we often looked for northern lights, only a couple of faint sightings occurred.|
|This portion of a topographic map shows Seagull Lake and surrounding areas. Study sites are indicated by red dots; the large island in the center of Seagull Lake, with several study sites, is ThreeMile Island. Note the black line on the right, which is the Gunflint Trail -- the only road connecting this area to the rest of the world. Seagull Lake is literally at the "end of the road"; in this case, the Gunflint Trail. The nearest town, Grand Marais, is on the shore of Lake Superior, 57 miles away. Note that although there are no great elevations shown, the map conveys some of the ruggedness of the topography. Many small cliffs and rock outcrops are scattered across the landscape.|
Although much analysis remains to be done on the data from BWCAW in 2000 and 2001, some initial findings are available. Andrea Leach presented a poster at the 2001 meeting of the Ecological Society of America, based on some of the data from 2000 at the Fishhook Island site. Her abstract can be viewed here.
|During both summers, my helpers and I stayed in a cabin rented from a youth camp, right on the edge of Seagull Lake. Each day, we paddled from the youth camp to our sample sites, except for a few days when we camped at closer campsites. The "canoe-commute" was one of the highlights of the experience, although it was a lot less fun if the water was rough. This view looks over Ben's shoulder at a mostly-intact shoreline at the north end of Seagull Lake. Damage was much more severe at the southern end of the lake.|
|As mentioned above, some of the time we camped at campsites close to the sample sites, to reduce the hours spent paddling to and from the sample sites. While camping, idle moments could be spent relaxing in lovely surroundings; here Ryan enjoys a book by the lakeshore.|
|We had two beautiful Kevlar canoes built by the We-no-nah company. They were 19 1/2 feet long and weighed only 42 lbs. The advantages of Kevlar canoes are their very light weight and nearly-silent operation. The disadvantage (surprisingly) is that the Kevlar fabric is easily punctured by the innumerable sharp rocks along every inch of shoreline in BWCAW lakes. Here Bradley and Ryan are carefully launching their canoe by lifting it over the rocks and putting it in the water.|
|Our study sites varied from the moderately-damaged site at the south end of Fishhook Island, to sites of nearly complete canopy destruction at Shirttail Point and on the southern tip of ThreeMile Island. Here is a look at the Shirttail Point study plot from a high rock outcrop; note the numerous dead red pines, while most of the other vegetation remains green. This image is from July 2001.|