Will Downed Timber, Dry Conditions Make Sleeping Bear Dunes Burn?

The August 2015 storm that flattened hundreds of acres of forest in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was a shocking event for local residents and friends of the park. Indeed, the storm’s 70 m.p.h. winds rendered parts of go-to places like the Alligator Hill Trail virtually unrecognizable.

Now a year later, many have wondered if the thousands of downed trees left in the storm’s wake could pose a fire risk given this year’s dry conditions. But according to the park’s deputy superintendent, Tom Ulrich, fires aren’t likely—at least this year. Ulrich says it can take years for timber to dry out enough to become fuel for wildland fires, and the National Park Service is now exploring measures to protect private homes close to the park that could be vulnerable in future seasons.

But he also stressed that change—including fire—is a part of the living nature of the park. “The thing about fire danger—‘danger’ implies there’s something you don’t want to have burn,” he says. “But the forest can burn. That’s what forests do.” And there’s no sign the impacts of the 2015 storm have blunted tourism. In fact, Ulrich says people are specifically traveling to those most impacted sites to witness nature’s power to destroy—and recover.

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