You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Decade of Research Finds Light-to-Moderate Fire Not Causing Bioaccumulation of Mercury in Fish

Photo of Trent Wickman of the Superior National Forest water sampling for mercury analysis.Trent Wickman of the Superior National Forest water sampling for mercury analysis.Snapshot : On the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, where prescribed fire is used to manage the threat of wildfire, USDA Forest Service scientists found that light-to-moderate severity fires do not lead to increased mercury in fish.

Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1613

Summary

After a historic blowdown event involving almost 500,000 acres on the Superior National Forest in northeast Minnesota, the possible implications of both wildfire and prescribed fire on the cycling of mercury and subsequent accumulation in fish became a significant concern for forest managers. The effect of fire on mercury accumulation in fish is particularly important to the Superior National Forest because much of the blowdown and subsequent fires occurred in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the most visited Wilderness Area in the United States. Mercury is a pollutant that bioaccumulates in the food chain and can lead to deleterious health issues when ingested. Mercury is the main reason there are fish consumption advisories in every state in the United States and Canadian provinces. After a decade of research comparing fish from lakes in burned and unburned watersheds, scientists at the USDA Forest Service's Northern Research Station found that light-to-moderate severity fires do not lead to increased mercury in fish. This result is great news for the Superior National Forest managers as they continue to use prescribed fire to manage the threat of a large wildfire in blowdown area.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • NRS-13
  • Northern Research Station Research NRS-07
  • Superior National Forest
  • Iowa State University
  • Michigan State University
  • North Dakota State University
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Wisconsin
  • ¬†University of Toronto.