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KWWF plans tour of 2010 Meridian fire May 21

By Alyssa Thompson

ROSCOMMON – Those participating in the newest tour at the 18th annual Kirtland’s Warbler Wildlife Festival on Saturday, May 21, on Kirtland Community College’s main campus near Roscommon will find an excellent learning experience, one that’s rising daily from the devastating 8,586-acre Meridian Boundary Fire of spring 2010.

Festival organizers have planned a tour into parts of the burned area, which was ravaged by fire mid-May of last year. While the blaze left thousands of acres charred, festival-goers who take the two-hour tour starting at 2 p.m. can now expect to see a rebirth flush with natural plant grasses and other ground covering plants, as well as oak and hardwood stems.

Cost of tour is $10, as well as $6 for a KWWF button, which allows you to attend all other festival events. The tour will leave from the headquarters tent located in front of the Student Center.

The Meridian Boundary Fire reportedly began as a simple brush fire that escalated into a wildfire along M-18 in southeast Crawford County. But all was not lost in this fire, according to John Elliott, assistant fire manager with the U.S. Forest Service, Mio Ranger Station.

“Natural plant grasses grew back last year after the first rain,” said Elliott, adding people will continue to see an abundance of growth in the area.

The new ecosystem will begin with grasses, shrubs and hardwood trees, according to Elliott. Along with the plants, small seed-eating mammals and birds will begin to populate the area. The burned area will become more subtle as new, green growth overtakes the burned area.

Small trees and larger shrubs will develop next. Tall shrubs, jack pines and tree saplings will establish themselves from five to 30 years following a burn and an abundance of wildlife will begin to thrive in the environment.

Among those thriving wildlife we’ll find the Kirtland’s warbler, which prefers jack pine stands ranging from 15-20 years old and 12-15 feet tall, said Elliott.

The Kirtland’s warbler nests in the grasses below and the recovering areas such as the Meridian Boundary Burn create plenty of nesting opportunity with the new thriving trees.

“Fire is essential to the warbler habitat,” Elliot said.

As fire overtakes the old trees, it opens the tree’s pine cones. Seeds escape and find home in the dune sand below. A natural occurring fire cycle keeps the warbler habitat naturally renewed.

For more information on the tour or a complete festival schedule, call 989-275-5000, extension 266.

Annually, more than 3,000 students attend a variety of certificate and two-year degree programs at Kirtland’s four locations – the main campus near Roscommon and the Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) in Gaylord, as well as sites in Grayling and West Branch – with the college’s service area including all or parts of Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Otsego, Kalkaska, Missaukee, Gladwin and Alcona counties, and the surrounding areas.

– Alyssa Thompson of Rose City was a student reporter for The Kirtland Current, a student publication serving Kirtland Community College.