Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN    Lee Frelich
   May 22, 2005 09:57 PDT 


I recently spent several days with a forestry class of 13 students in the
boreal forest of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, on Seagull and
Saganaga Lakes, which are on the Canadian border at 48-49 degrees latitude.
It is always a surprise to see spring disappear during the drive up there
at this time of year. Most trees in Minneapolis have leaves, or at least
the buds have opened. In Duluth the first few aspen buds are just beginning
to open, and proceeding north to Grand Marais MN, the deciduous trees are
totally bare. 

Then drive down the Gunflint Trail, which goes even further
north and adds 1000 feet in elevation along its 55 mile length which ends
in the middle of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and you return to late
winter. The trail at one point passes through an incredibly battered grove
of 350 year old white pine. They don't look like any white pines you ENTS
have ever seen, but it is how white pine looks when growing on shallow
rocky soils in a boreal forest where temperatures go to minus 60 during the
winter, there are frequent droughts, and derechos. We camped at Trails End
Campground on a rocky peninsula about 200 feet long that juts into the
Seagull River, with red and jack pines and black spruce that originated
after a fire in 1801.

Here are seven pictures from the trip to Seagull and Saganaga Lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, May 16-18 2005, with students and faculty from Michigan State University. All pictures were taken by David MacFarlane, Professor of biometry, Michigan State University.  


OldCedar.jpg (1095994 bytes) Old cedar.jpg. Northern white cedar that survived the 1999 blowdown and 2002 fire. Estimated age about 800 years (tree is hollow). 

We went out on Seagull Lake to Three Mile Island (at 3 miles in length it
is the largest of 200 islands in the lake), and were disappointed to see
that the last red pine from the 1595 cohort has died. It survived the big
blowdown of 1999, and the prescribed fire of 2002, but was struck by
lightning last summer. The foliage just recently turned brown. The good
news is that this tree and several small groves of 200 year old red pines
around the edge of the island have reseeded the area, and there is a new
red pine forest popping up throughout the island. 

P_Resinosa1595.jpg (889511 bytes) Presinosa1595.jpg. 400 year old red pine that died from lightning strike last summer, on Three Mile Island, Seagull Lake. Stand was blowndown July 4, 1999 and burned Sept 2002.
Island1995.jpg (907586 bytes) Island1995.jpg. Jack pine, white cedar, black spruce and paper birch on an unnamed island in Saganaga Lake, island was burned in a wildlfire during May 1995.

This is the first time I
have ever seen large-scale natural red pine regeneration. The 6000 year
heritage of this red pine population has gotten through the bottleneck and
will persist on this island that now has thousands of fire-killed snags
that stand black against the 100 foot high pink granite hills that compose
the island. We made the hike to the opposite side of the island to see that
the ancient cedars are still there, and their seedlings have colonized a
100 foot wide swath of recently burned ground around them. Although we
found red pine seedlings 1000 feet from the nearest seed tree, cedar seeds
never go more than 100 feet.

ThreeMile3.jpg (1044545 bytes) Threemille3.jpg. Remnants of 200-400 year old red pine forest on Three Mile Island, Seagull Lake, blowdown on July 4, 1999 and burned Sept. 2002.
ThreeMile4.jpg (1190679 bytes) Threemile4.jpg. Remnants of 200 year old jack pine, red pine and birch forest on Three Mile Island, Seagull Lake, blown down July 4, 1999 and burned Sept. 2002. Note young paper birch and red pine regeneration 2 feet tall.

We also went out onto Saganaga, described by Sigurd Olson as the ideal
wilderness lake, with its fleets of islands of pink granite, many of which
are nameless, with different aged forest on each one. We stopped on Bear
Island to examine its 100 year old even-aged red pine and black spruce
forest. Then onto some nameless island that had burned in the Roy Lake
wildfire of 1976, now covered with exceedingly dense jack pine, black
spruce, aspen and paper birch, their exposed root systems incredibly
snaking over the granite and just now beginning to be covered with moss.

BearIsland1.jpg (1180533 bytes) Bearisland1.jpg. 100 year old red pine forest with some black spruce  invading the understory on Bear Island, Saganaga Lake. Island was burned in a wildfire, probably in 1903.

Next was Munker Island and its 300 year old, 90 foot tall, red pine forest
with a 40 foot tall understory of white cedar, foot deep feather moss, and
many tons of coarse woody debris per acre. Then another nameless island,
basically a 100 foot high lump of pink granite a few acres in size that
burned during the wildfire of May 1995. Young jack pine with open cones
(young trees are open coned and help to reseed the new forest as early as
age 3, whereas trees over age 12 are totally closed coned), and miniature
black spruce 1-2 feet tall now cover the island, towering over the 6 inch
high blueberries.

Munker1.jpg (1232133 bytes) Munker1.jpg. 245 year old red pine with fir and cedar invasion underneath on Munker Island, Saganaga Lake. Island was burned in a wildfire during 1759

Then I had a nice leisurely drive back down the north shore of Lake
Superior, with its white spruce and paper birch forests on 1000 foot high
hills, and many scenic attractions such as the 300 foot bluffs plunging
into 900 foot deep water at Palisade Head, Split Rock Lighthouse clinging
to the top of twin 175 foot shards of rock, and the many rivers swelling
with spring snowmelt, but confined by narrow canyons and pulled forwards by
numerous waterfalls as they make their way to Lake Superior.

Lots of interesting trees there, but none that will make any height records.