Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report (RAT)

Ham Lake Fire

Rapid Assessment Team (RAT)

July 2007

Private Structure on Magnetic Lake; Photo: US Forest Service, L. Johnson; May 9, 2007.
Table of Contents page

1. INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................1

2. FOREST VEGETATION...........................................................................................7

3. FIRE & FUELS .......................................................................................................17

4. INFRASTRUCTURE...............................................................................................22

5. SCENIC RESOURCES ..........................................................................................26

6. RECREATION & WILDERNESS ...........................................................................29

7. TERRESTRIAL WILDLIFE HABITAT AND VEGETATION ..................................36

8. NON-NATIVE INVASIVE PLANTS (NNIP)............................................................41

9. SOIL, WATERSHED, WATER QUALITY & FISHERIES ......................................42

10. PUBLIC INFORMATION & PARTNERSHIPS.....................................................49

11. HERITAGE RESOURCES ...................................................................................51

Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

Ham Lake Fire RAT Report Maps

1. Vicinity
2. Burned Area Reflectance Classifications (BARC)
3. Landscape Ecosystems and Fire Severity
4. Burn Severity in the Jack Pine Black Spruce Landscape Ecosystem of Forest that
is Not Young
5. Burn Severity in the Mesic Red and White Pine Landscape Ecosystem of Forest
that is Not Young
6. Burn Severity in the Mesic Aspen Spruce Fir Landscape Ecosystem of Forest that
is Not Young
7. Burn Severity in Other Ecosystems
8. Burn Severity in Young Forest (<10 years pre fire in CDS)
9. Available Timber Types in Moderate and High Severity
10. Available Timber and Critical Ecological Landtypes
11. Upper Gunflint Trail Fire History (1923 – 2007)
12. Previous Fuel Treatment, Wildfires, and Blowdown (from: Superior National Forest
Fuel Treatment and Wildfire Map)
13. Land Corners and Posted Land Lines and Burn Severity
14. Burn Perimeter with Campsites and Campgrounds
15. Watersheds
16. Ecological Landtypes (ELTs) Mapping


Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

Ham Lake Fire RAT Report Tables

Table 1. Ham Lake Fire – All acres burned across international border, estimated by
Incident Command
Table 2. Ham Lake Fire – Acres in the burned area in Minnesota, estimated by BARC
Table 3. Ham Lake Fire - Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC)
Table 4. Ham Lake Fire – Landscape Ecosystems in the Burned Area (NFS acres)
Table 5. Ham Lake Fire – Forest Type and Age Class in the Burned Area (acres)
Table 6. Ham Lake Fire – Stand Replacement Fire (acres) "Stand Replacement" is
Moderate and High BARC fire severity classes. Excludes upland brush,
lowland brush, and open types.
Table 7a. Ham Lake Fire – Stand Replacement Fire and Available Timber. Stand
replacement fire = moderate and high BARC fire severity. Available timber =
mature stands on LSC 500 and 800.
Table 7b. Ham Lake Fire – Low Fire Severity and Available Timber. Available timber
Table 8. Ham Lake Fire – Fire History of the Area
Table 9. Ham Lake Fire – Inventory Roads in the Burned Area
Table 10. Ham Lake Fire – Monumented corners and Burn Severity
Table 11. Ham Lake Fire – Post Boundary Lines and Burn Severity
Table 12. Ham Lake Fire – Scenic Integrity Objectives (SIO) in the burned area
Table 13. Ham Lake Fire – Wilderness Campsite Survey Results
Table 14. Ham Lake Fire – Campgrounds (CG)
Table 15. Ham Lake Fire - Trail Survey Results
Table 16. Ham Lake Fire - Portage Survey Results
Table 17. Ham Lake Fire – Watersheds Affected by the Fire
Table 18. Ham Lake Fire – Landtype Associations
Table 19. Ham Lake Fire - Miles of Stream Channels by Order or Class


Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

RAT Members

Archeological Technician – Lee Johnson

Botanist – Jack Greenlee

Fire and Fuels Specialists – Patty Johnson, Cory Berg

Forestry Technician – Steve Williams

GIS Specialist – Tom McCann

Public Information Specialist & Collaboration Coordinator – Lisa Pattni, Kris

Recreation & Wilderness Specialists – Ann Schwaller, Steve Shug

Recreation Specialist, Greyling Brandt

Silviculturist – Myra Theimer

Soil Scientist – Casey McQuiston

Team Leader – Erica Hahn

Wildlife Biologists – Lissa Grover, Mary Shedd

Others Consulted

Air Specialist -Trent Wickman

Civil Engineers – Randee Olson, John Olson

Forester – Brian Henry

Hydrologist – Marty Rye

Land Surveyor – Ken Staupe


Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

1. Introduction
Shortly after the Ham Lake Fire was contained, the Superior National Forest (NF)
leadership formed the Rapid Assessment Team (RAT) from District and Forest staff.
The RAT was tasked with quickly developing a snap-shot of the Ham Lake Fire’s effect
on the landscape. This report is the culmination of only two weeks of work, thus there
remains some information gaps and uncertainty. Undoubtedly with more time on the
ground observing the Fire’s effects our understanding of the situation will most likely
change. Readers should also know that the assessment was not interdisciplinary, rather it
was a multidisciplinary process.

The Ham Lake Fire

The Ham Lake Fire started on May 5, 2007 and burned approximately 75,000 acres in
both the United States and Canada (Map 1: Vicinity Map; Map 2: Burned Area
Reflectance Classifications; Table 1). The fire was declared 100% contained on the U.S.
portion on May 19, 2007, and controlled on June 4, 2007. A Burned Area Emergency
Response (BEAR) team completed its initial assessment during the week of May 21. The
Forest determined that several resource areas require further assessment, hence the Ham
Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Team (RAT) was assembled. The RAT considered the
changed conditions on the landscape and this report describes the fire’s effect and the
changed conditions.

Table 1. Ham Lake Fire – Acres
Burned across the International
Border, estimated by Incident
Ontario 38,709
Minnesota 36,080
Total 74,789

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

The fire burned about 29,000 acres of National Forest System (NFS) land in and around
the Superior National Forest, including the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness
(BWCAW) (Table 2).

Table 2. Ham Lake Fire – Acres in the burned area in
Minnesota, estimated by BARC
Ownership Outside
NFS 13,081 15,983 29,064
State of Minnesota 1,136 895 2,031
Lakes > 40 acres 1,026 2,074 3,100
Other Ownership 724 28 752
Cook County & State 80 745 825
Total 16,047 19,726 35,773

Both the Ham Lake Fire Incident Command Team (ICT) and the Burned Area
Reflectance Classification (BARC) estimated the size of the burned area. The ITC and
BARC methods for estimating the burned area are sound and they only differ by about
1% (comparing total burned acres in Minnesota in Tables 1 and 2). The RAT decided to
use the BARC acreage estimates because the BARC data include fire severity.

Table 3. Ham Lake Fire - Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC)
BARC Severity* NFS Acres
None to Very Low Not burned 3,640
Low Foliage and smaller twigs scorched, shrubs stems
intact, canopy scorched. 4,588
Moderate Foliage and small stems consumed; shrub stems
charred; root crowns in tact; shrub canopy consumed. 3,801
High All plant parts consumed, including fuels greater than
¾ of an inch, leaving some or no major stems. 391
Total 12,420
* Severity definitions from Draft Soil Burn Severity Definitions and Mapping Guidelines

The area is a mosaic landscape characterized by numerous lakes, separated by areas of
uplands interspersed with wetlands, intermittent and perennial stream channels. Much of
the area contained downed and dead trees due to a significant wind storm that occurred in

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None to Very Low BARC Severity.
Photo: US Forest Service, BEAR; May 2007.
Low BARC Severity.
Photo: US Forest Service, M. Theimer; June 19, 2007.
Moderate to High BARC Severity.
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 2007.
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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

area on July 4, 1999. While still under investigation, the Ham Lake Fire is currently
believed to have been started by an escaped campfire. The fire spread rapidly by wind
and was fueled by the dead and downed trees from the July 4, 1999, wind storm.

The burned area is predominantly jack pine and aspen-birch, with scattered red and white
pine in uplands. This part of the Gunflint Trail and BWCAW also has spruce-fir,
lowland conifers, and lowland shrubs.

Most of the area that burned experienced very light fire intensity, i.e., none, very low, and
low (Map 2 and Table 3). Very little of the burned area experienced “high” fire severity,
in which all plant material is consumed.


The fire affected the Superior NF both inside and outside the BWCAW. Inside the
BWCAW, the fire burned in three management areas: Primitive, Semi-primitive Non-
motorized, and Semi-primitive Motorized.

Only a small area of the Primitive Wilderness management area was affected. This area
provides visitors with a primitive non-motorized wilderness experience in an unmodified
environment. The area affected is around Rush Lake and is off main travel routes and is
for those who are seeking a high degree of solitude and challenge, but do not wish to or
are not capable of traveling into a Pristine Wilderness management area.

There is very little Semi-primitive Motorized (SPM) Wilderness management area in the
BWCAW, so it is not suprising that only a small amount of the Widlerness that was
impacted was in SPM. Motor lakes were designated in the 1978 BWCA Wilderness
legislation. Though not all travel in this area is by motorboat, visitors see a high number
of boats with motors. Lakes in SPM are on the periphery of the Wilderness at the end of
the Gunflint Trail, Seagull and Saganaga Lakes.

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

The majority of Wilderness affected by the Ham Lake Fire is in the Semi-primtive Non-
motorized (SPNM) management area. SPNM areas provide visitors with a semi-
primitive wilderness experience in a predominantly unmodified natural environment.
They are areas generally located along the main travel routes, where visitors encounter
others more frequently, and solitude is not one of their highest priorities.

Outside the BWCAW, the burned area is in the Recreation Use in a Scenic Landscape
(RU) management area. This management area emphasizes land and resource conditions
that provide a scenic landscape for recreational activities in natural-appearing
surroundings. This management area also provides wildlife habitat for enhanced
recreational wildlife watching. There is concentrated recreation use in some areas and
low-density recreation is in areas with remote character.

Table 4. Ham Lake Fire – Landscape Ecosystems in the
burned area
Landscape Ecosystem Acres
Jack Pine Black Spruce 8,946
Mesic Aspen Birch Spruce Fir 1,095
Mesic Red and White Pine 1,058
Lowland Conifer within (A) Jack Pine/Black Spruce and
Dry-Mesic Red and White Pine 401
Lowland Conifer within (B) Mesic Red and White Pine and
Mesic Birch/Aspen/Spruce/Fir 70
Total* 11,571
*The total does not match BARC number because they were
estimated using different methods

In the RU management area, ecosystems are managed to provide a predominantly
natural-appearing landscape that may be slightly modified by forest management
activities. This management area emphasizes a large tree and old forest character.
Vegetation management generally maintains or enhances older vegetative growth stages.
Management activities such as timber harvest and management-ignited fire are used to
achieve Landscape Ecosystem (LE) objectives (Forest Plan Chapter 2). There are a few

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

LEs in the area, but the Jack Pine/ Black Spruce LE dominates the area (Table 4) (Map

3: Ham Lake Fire and Landscape Ecosystems; Map 4: JPBS LE), although other LEs
were also affected (Map 5: Mesic Red and White Pine LE; Map 6: Birch Aspen Spruce
Fir LE; Map 7: Other LEs).
Recreation and scenic integrity objectives guide the appearance of timber harvest,
management-ignited fire, tree planting, and other management techniques. Vegetation
management activities are designed to enhance wildlife habitat, and management
activities that promote wildlife habitat for public observation may occur.

Viewsheds are managed for scenic beauty and big-tree character in this management
area. Generally, the area offers natural-looking forest surroundings with some facility
and trail development and roads for recreation. Forest management is designed to
enhance recreation and scenic objectives. Visitors to this part of the Forest may
occasionally see management activities such as timber harvest, management-ignited fire,
tree planting, and other resource management.

This area is managed to provide a variety of recreation opportunities. Developed
recreation sites such as campgrounds, picnic sites, boat landings, observation sites,
trailheads, and swimming areas are provided for public use. Facilities are generally
designed for comfort and convenience of users. Dispersed recreation facilities such as
campsites and trails (day use, backpacking, portaging, bicycling, horseback riding, hunter
walking, snowmobile, ATV use, interpretive) may be provided for public use. Many
people use this area along lakes and roads and at developed recreation sites. It is
common to encounter others.

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

2. Forest Vegetation
Before the July 4th, 1999 windstorm blew down 477,000 acres, including the area that
burned in the Ham Lake Fire, this part of the Gunflint Trail was predominately in the
older age classes due to its recreation and scenic management emphasis. Salvage
treatment was done after the storm with clear cut harvesting or removal of salvageable
trees within stands. There was an emphasis on increasing the amount of conifer by
planting or seeding. Some of these plantations were burned in the Ham Lake Fire. In
addition, older plantations from previous actions were also burned. Table 5 lists the acres
in the burned area by age class and forest type.

In general the burn was a fast moving crown fire and the intensity on the ground was
light. Some areas burned down to mineral soil but much as some degree of burned duff
remaining. In some cases there was frost on the ground as the fire moved through. This
means that the soil and the root structure remained intact.

The Ham Lake fire is expected to change the age classes by increasing the young forest
and decreasing the 80 plus age classes. The BARC analysis estimates approximately
2,300 acres of young will be created from this fire (Table 6), which will help reach the
Forest plan desired 14% in young in decade 1. The RAT agreed with the BAER team
that BARC severity of High and Moderate caused immediate stand replacement.

There appears to be a large number of acres in the 0-9 yr. age class that burned in the
moderate to high severity class (Map 8: Young Forest and Fire Severity). A portion of
these acres were lumped into the young class due to the 1999 windstorm because they
were on inaccessible lands in the unsuitable LSC. The resulting landscape is more of a
mosaic with various levels of trees in them. Many of these areas would be expected to
naturally though time and will not need treatment. However, plantations put in after the
1999 storm and from previous decisions may need to be reforested. Crews have
reviewed 203 acres of plantations that were either moderately or severely burned. From

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

80-100% of the regeneration/or saplings were killed. Half of these stands have some
aspen sucker sprouts and a smaller amount of paper birch sprouting from the base of the

Table 5. Ham Lake Fire – Forest Type and Age Class in the Burned Area (NFS
Forest Type/Age Class 0-9 10-39 40-79 80-179 108+ Total by
Jack Pine 2,398 606 9 748 5 3,766
Spruce/Balsam Fir 1,759 97 14 417 347 2,634
Upland Black Spruce 1,431 40 337
Quaking Aspen 794 407 31 215 1,447
Balsam Fir/Aspen/Paper
Birch 72 36
495 603
Black Spruce 15 7 20 265 23 330
White Pine 112 35
116 262
Paper Birch 77 5 0 180 262
Mix Swamp Conifer 12
86 42 140
Red Pine 84 53 136
Balsam Fir/Am Elm/Red
Maple 13 84
White Spruce/Balsam
Fir/Nrw Spruce 82 82
No. White Cedar 2 3
8 13
Mixed Pines 0 0
Open 42 449*
Lowland Brush 3 334*
Upland Brush 9*
Total by Age Classes 6,885 1,216 123 2,865 1,332* 12,420
* Note: Open and brush areas inflate the older age class. Age is determined by year of origin.
Total for the 180+ age class without the open and brush types is 540 acres.

In the 40 plus age classes, there are 1,235 acres that are expected to return to the young
age class (Table 6). Some of these stands were not fully stocked due to previous

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

harvesting or insect infestations, or were lower priority for treatment after the windstorm.
The majority of these would be expected to regenerate naturally and fully meet stocking

Aspen suckering in moderate BARC severity.
Photo: US Forest Service, E Hahn; June 2007.
There are 1,224 acres of stands in the 80 plus age class that are expected to return to the
young age class, reducing older forest.

The Ham Lake Fire burned 49 acres of 80-179 yr. age class lowland black spruce which
will now increase the amount in the 0-9 yr. age class.

The fire was patchy in many places and created various sized gaps in some stands that
could help to promote multi-aged stand structure and compositional diversity. The Ham
Lake fire burned acres in the old and old-growth forest. However, many of the stands
burned at different intensities and could increase the number of stands that are considered

Within stand diversity will probably not decrease from the general pre-fire conditions in
stands regenerating after the fire. In some stands, especially aspen suckering back after
the fire, may have more within stand diversity than a clear cut aspen stand. Red and

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

white pine may be favored in areas with seed trees and a newly created mineral seed bed.

Table 6. Ham Lake Fire – Stand Replacement Fire (acres) "Stand Replacement"
is Moderate and High BARC fire severity classes. Excludes upland brush, lowland
brush, and open types.
Forest Type (CDS code)
Age Class (years)
0-9 10-39 40-79 80-179 180+ Forest Type
Jack Pine (01)
924 245 0 267 3 1,439
Aspen and Birch dominated
uplands (91, 92, 95) 746 185 5 228 145 1,310
Spruce-Fir (11, 16, 17)
625 29 0 519 0 1,173
Lowland Black Spruce
dominated Conifers (12, 18) 3 5 6 49 3 65
Red Pine (02)
4 7 0 0 0 11
Balsam Fir/Am Elm/Red
Maple (71) 3 0 0 9 0 11
White Pine (03)
2 0 0 0 0 2
No. White Cedar (14)
0 0 0 1 0 1
Age Class Totals
2,307 470 11 1,073 151 4,012

Ham Lake Fire occurred on bedrock controlled terrain in the Laurentian Shield and has
generally thinner soils and includes steep rock outcrops. The burn, in general, was a fast
moving crown fire and burned the soil lightly. Some areas burned down to mineral soil
but much of the area has some degree of burned duff remaining, usually less than 3
inches. In some cases there was frost on the ground as the fire moved through. The soil
and the root structure appear intact for much of the area although many of the rock
outcrops have been exposed by the fire.

Natural Regeneration

The jack pine and black spruce forest types are adapted to this type of disturbance and

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

would have typically burned every 50-70 years. The cones appear to have opened and
cast seed. They should regenerate on the shallower and drier soils as long as there was
sufficient jack pine cones shed. In the case of the older plantations of jack pine they
could regenerate to aspen.

The aspen and birch forest types are already sprouting from the roots or the stumps.
They will be more prevalent on the deeper moister. There was a bumper crop of aspen
this spring just after the fire and had very good soil and moisture conditions to encourage
additional germination.

There should be a reduction in the amount of balsam fir and white spruce on the
landscape due to the fire and its low ability to withstand heat. Much of the fire was a
mosaic and has surrounding mature trees of these species. They should be able to re-
invade sooner than if the fire had been more severe.

The fire should have really improved the opportunity for red and white pine regeneration.
Some seedlings will germinate but the majority will come anywhere from 15-40 years
and grow slowly. A good seed crop may take up to 7 years. There is less of these trees
around due to the harvesting of them in the early part of the last century.

Forest Health

There is no reason to believe that the Ham Lake fire area will not recover. The stands
that regenerate after the fire should increase the amount of forest maintained in a healthy
condition, reducing the risk of and damage from fires, insects, and diseases.

Most of the trees in the moderate and high severity classes are charred around the bole
and have little to no live needles or leaves remaining. A majority of the jack pine in these
stands appear to have burned the cones hot enough to melt the resin and shed their seed.
Most of the balsam fir and understory trees are dead. Most of the saplings appeared to
have died but some of the red and jack pine leaders have since elongated.

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

Although it is very difficult to predict how many additional live trees may die, due to the
light burn, the crowns of the trees should be a good indicator. Weather conditions will
play a vital role. General guidelines for tree longevity are listed below and include
information from the prescribed burns monitoring plot data:

• Jack Pine - 50% more of the jack pine that look green will likely die in the next
few years.
• Red and White Pine - Red and white pine that retain 30% or more crown could
survive. In low intensity prescribed burns a range of 0-30% of the pines died in
1-3 years.
• Balsam Fir - All balsam fir that was within the fire will likely die.
• Paper Birch - Paper birch is far more sensitive than the other hardwoods and are
likely to die.
• Aspen - Some of the aspen will die but it is not clear how to make that
This kind of mortality is dependent on if we get a good amount of rain this summer and a
good snow pack this winter. Drought conditions in the next few years could really
accelerate the amount of trees that die from this fire.

There may be an increase in insects (Ips pini, pine engraver; Dendroctonus valens, red
turpentine beetle; Dendroctonus rufipennis, spruce beetle; Monochamus scutellatus,
white spotted pine sawyer; Xylosandrus germanus, ambrosia beetle; Agrilus anxius
bronze birch borer; Hymenoptera and Siricidae, wood or horntail wasps) and disease
(Ceratocystis and Leptographium, blue stain fungi). The early timing of the fire
coincided with the flight of the pine engraver. They have attacked the burned jack pine
and the first generation has already flown. There are many jack pines with boring dust
and holes on the boles. There could be a build up of the population as early as this year
which could affect the timing and amount of a secondary (wood boring) beetle attack.
There is no history of a build up of these insects to an epidemic level, however there
hasn’t been a recent fire of this size. The level of the population depends on the weather

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

in the next few years. If there is plenty of rain this summer and a good snow pack this
winter many of the trees that survived will be able to withstand an attack.

There is also evidence of red turpentine beetle in the base of the red and white pine trees.
These bugs do not have multiple generations and shouldn’t emerge until next spring.
They mostly will serve to weaken the tree to other insect attack. Again, weather will play
an important role in how well live or slightly injured trees can withstand an attack. All
conifers infested with bark beetles will be susceptible to the blue stain fungus.

Table 7a and Map 9 show an estimate of what could be considered for salvage at this
time. The criteria for developing Table 7a and Map 9 are similar to what we use for
estimating available timber and are the following:

• Stand Replacement Fire (moderate and high fire severity)
• Land Suitability Classes: 500s and 800s
• Forest Type and Age:
o Jack pine (01) >= 50 yrs.
o Aspen (91, 95) >= 50 yrs.
o Paper Birch (92) >= 50 yrs.
o Lowland Black Spruce (12) >= 50 yrs.
o Balsam Fir (11) >= 50 yrs.
Map 9 shows only “available timber” in portions of stands that experienced moderate and
high fire severity. The data used to make this estimate may not account for areas that
were affected by the 1999 windstorm and were categorized as young but have mature
trees. On the other hand, these data do not take into account wetlands and ELT 18s,
which would reduce the acreage available for salvage. Forest types other than those
listed above were queried (e.g., red and white pine) but did not meet the other criteria.
Note that white pine is mistakenly in the legend on Map 9.

Map 10 also shows the “available timber” stands (as defined for Map 9) along with
wetland ELTs (ELTs 1 – 6) and restricted ELTs (ELTs 12 and 18). Of the area that

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

could be considered for salvage, there area approximately 150 acres of ELTs that have
not been mapped.

It appears that there are some areas that might be options for salvage; however, access is
very limited in some of these areas due to wet ELTs or steep slopes. Much of the area
has been harvested in the previous decisions. Many of the stands that were harvested
were treated in the winter because of limited access. This could be an issue if the product
will not last due to wood damage from insects and pathogens.

At this time, we cannot estimate the volume of timber lost in the fire. In order to do this,
we would need to consult experts in salvaging burned timber.

The smaller the tree, e.g., jack pine, the less economic value because once it gets to the
mill they will have to remove the charred wood. Larger trees, e.g., red and white pine,
would still be usable for sawtimber. The value of burned aspen and birch is uncertain,
however the current market is not good for unburned aspen and birch. It is unclear
whether pole size trees in the burned area have economic value.

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

Table 7a. Ham Lake Fire – Stand Replacement Fire and Available Timber. Stand replacement fire = moderate and high BARC
fire severity. Available timber = mature stands on LSC 500 and 800.
Forest Type
Jack Pine (01) 150 ---9 3 138 ---------
Paper Birch
(92) 98 -----68 3 -27 ------
Black Spruce
(12) 57 -----20 -3 -7 -18 --8
Quaking Aspen
(91) 29 ---1 4 5 --19 ------
B Fir/ Aspen/
PB (11) 13 ---13 -----------
Spr/Blm Fir (95) 6 -----5 --------
Total by Age
Class 352 ---22 7 231 8 3 46 7 -18 --8

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Ham Lake Fire RAT Report

Table 7b. Ham Lake Fire – Low Fire Severity and Available Timber. Available timber = mature stands on LSC 500 and 800.
Forest Type
Jack Pine
(01) 176 -
20 150
White Pine
(03) 77 -
Paper Birch
(92) 20 -
17 3 ---------
Black Spruce
(12) 60 -
12 25 --5 2 ---
Aspen (91) 34 -
--20 ------
B Fir/ Aspen/
PB (11) 35 -
8 12 -
Spr/Blm Fir
(95) 92 1
11 51 26 -3 ------
Total by Age
Class 495 1 17 56 245 38 32 23 -5 2 --77

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

3. Fire & Fuels
The Ham Lake Fire burned within the range of natural variability when compared to
other wildfires within the area. The size, intensity, and effects are all within what is
expected from a natural fire in this ecosystem. From a fuel hazard perspective, the Ham
Lake Fire did not create a large, landscape scale hazard of concern for fire managers.
There are still pockets of hazardous fuels left and there will most likely be mortality in
the low intensity burned acres. However, these fuel hazards are on a small scale and
fairly isolated. The Ham Lake Fire, in addition to other wildfires and fuel treatments in
the area, have essentially reduced fuel loadings to acceptable levels (Map 11: Upper
Gunflint Fire History, Map 12: Previous Wildfires and Fuel Treatments).

Fire History/Natural Range of Variation/Fire Regime

Fires historically occurred every 40-100 years within the Jack Pine/Black Spruce system.
The last know fire in the area was in 1910. Fires in this system were high-intensity, stand
replacement fires. This fire can be categorized as a stand replacement fire. The fire
caused 50-100% mortality of the overstory. The Ham Lake Fire can be characterized as
moderate-intensity, stand replacement fire. The intensity was less than is what is
typically seen in these systems, but within the natural range of variation. Fire size within
this system historically was 50,000 acres up to 500,000 acres. The Ham Lake Fire is
within the size of what would have historically occurred (see Table 8). From a landscape
scale, there have been large fires occurring in this area for the last 35 years. From 1975
to present, there has been 125,434 acres within the Ham Lake area that has burned. Due
to the severity of the fire, it is expected that the natural attributes, processes, and
functions of the vegetative communities will return, helping the Forest move towards a
more desirable condition in this LE in terms of restoring fire.

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

Table 8. Ham Lake Fire - Fire History the
Fire Name Date Acres
Roy Lake 8/21/1976 3,380
Sag Corridor 8/10/1995 12,600
Alpine Lake 8/6/2005 1,335
Cavity Lake 7/14/2006 31,830
Ham Lake 5/5/2007 74,789
Payer Lake 1,500
Total 125,434

Fire Severity Interpretation

The fire severity was less than what is typically seen in the Jack Pine/Black Spruce
systems. This is most likely due to the following items.

. The fire was a fast moving, wind driven fire.
. The fire occurred in early spring when there was still frost in the ground. The
frost essentially kept the fire from burning into the duff layers. There was
very little residual burning after the flame front past.
. The fuels treatments in the past removed a majority of the fuel hazards that
would have built up intensity with the fire.
Due to previous fuel treatments in the area, the severity of the fire was much less than the
scenario would have been without treatments. The fuels treatments effectively took the
intensity out the fire, which aided in protecting structures and minimizing damage to
values at risk. This helped move the Forest towards the objective of minimizing the
effects of unwanted wildland fire.

A small amount of Red and White Pine where the fire reduced fuels and controlled
vegetation. Some mortality occurred and more will probably become evident over the
next 1-3 years. However, the effects are the same as a natural, low intensity fire for
those types. The fire did help move the forest forward in meeting the objective of
reducing fuels and vegetation in the understory of stands that historically had low

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intensity fire. A total of 398 acres of Red and White Pine typed stands burned in the
Ham Lake Fire, most of these acres burned with low intensity as it would have

Fire burned over recently cut areas
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 2007.
Fuel Hazard Created from the Fire

Areas that experienced high fire severity are not a fuel hazard concern because all fine
fuels, which area the primary carrier of wildfire, were consumed in the Ham Lake Fire.

Areas that may be a concern in terms of fuel hazard are the low and moderate severity
areas where the understory was killed, creating more fine fuels, and the overstory was
either scorched or not burned. Initial fuel loading calculations show that fine fuels have
been reduced to below 5 tons per acre. There is a possibility that the overstory may die
over the next several years from insects, disease, post-fire effects, or blow over with wind
due to the weakened root systems. This fuel hazard is not a management concern at this
time for the following reasons:

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

. The fuel hazard is not continuous on the landscape. It is broken up by the fire
and by previous fuel treatments.
. The majority of the understory dead and down and ladder fuels have been
removed from the area by the fire or previous treatments.
Fuel loading in the low and moderate severity burned areas could increase in the long
term. If these areas were to be treated mechanically, activity fuels created by salvage
operations in these areas have the potential to increase both the probability of new fire
starts and increase the intensity of new fires in the short term.

If it were deemed important to treat fuels to minimize the potential for longer term
increase fuel loading, priority should be given to stands that burned under low to
moderate severity and are closest to structures and private property. An initial estimate
of how many acres might need fuel treatment identified approximately 845 acres. This
estimate considered areas with: low or moderate fire severity; older than 20 years of age;
within ½ mile of a structure (public and private); jack pine (01), red pine (02), white pine
(03), balsam fir/aspen/paper birch (11), white spruce/balsam fir/Norway spruce (16),
upland black spruce (17), mixed pines (30), quaking aspen (91), paper birch (92), and
aspen/white spruce/balsam fir (95).

Before the fire, the majority of the area was in a Condition Class 3. The vegetation was
departed from its normal patterns and the fire regime was beyond its historical return
interval. The Ham Lake Fire restored this system to a Condition Class 1 in terms of fire
return intervals. Vegetation condition class will be based on what regenerates within the
fire areas. Severity of the fire indicates regeneration should be within in natural bounds.
Therefore, the fire improved condition class on the Forest.

The majority of the hazardous fuels within the fire area had been treated in the past
through mechanical or prescribed fire treatments. These past treatments effectively
eliminated the majority of the high fuel hazard areas created from the blowdown. The
Ham Lake Fire cleaned up additional small acres of hazardous fuels that still existed,
moving us some towards the Forest Plan objective of reducing hazardous fuels.

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However, the amount is fairly insignificant. The Ham Lake Fire burned over 110 acres
of planned fuels treatments.

Current Fuel Treatment Plans

The majority of the fuels treatments were completed in this area so there is no need to
adjust fuels treatment plans in the area. The fire does underscore the need to continue
treatments in other adjacent areas. There is still high fuel hazard in the Mid-Trail area
which is only 2 miles east of the fire area that need to be completed. These should be the
high priority for fuels treatments for the district.

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4. Infrastructure

Road restrictions were needed during the fire for public safety. During the BEAR
process, John Mellang, Engineering Technician, traveled on all National Forest Service
Roads and unclassified roads, county roads, special use roads and many private roads
within the boundary of the Ham Lake Fire (Table 9). He did not find any values at risk
and there are no longer term issues or recommendations. Forest Road 1335, Bedew
Lake Road, severely damaged during suppression. The Type 1 Team rehabilitated it
following the existing corridor alignments. Temporary roads and barriers to OML 1
roads were not affected. The Ham Lake Fire did not change the number of roads in the
area nor did it change roads’ surfacing.

NFS roads in the burned area are safe and still provide adequate access to non-NFS land
and NFS land. After temporary restrictions were lifted, the Ham Lake Fire did not
change on-going access in the burned area to recreation sites.

Table 9. Ham Lake Fire - Inventory
Roads in burned area
Jurisdiction Miles
Cook County 13.7
Forest Service 11.2
Private 4.2
State Forest 1.1
Total 30.3

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Administrative Sites

The Seagull Guard Station was not directly affected by the fire, except the phone lines.
The telephone company has restored the phone lines.

After some field checking, it is assumed that section corner monuments are probably still
standing, but those that are not GPS will be difficult to find because their references are
gone (or will soon die or blow over) in the high to moderate fire severity areas (Table 10,
Map 13. Lands Corners and Posted Landlines and Burn Severity). In areas with low
severity, references could also be impacted. (References may be a an orange tag or paint
on a tree.) Burned references are at risk of being lost from post-fire mortality, subsequent
windthrow, and mechanical operations. Landlines were also affected by the fire, which
were mostly in the low and moderate severely burned area (Table 11).

Table 10. Ham Lake Fire -
Monumented Corners and
Burn Severity
Number of
Low 27
Moderate 35
High 4
Total 66

Table 11. Ham Lake Fire - Post
Boundary Lines and Burn
Severity Miles
High 0.03
Moderate 2.49
Low 3.25
Unchanged - Very Low 1.41
Total 7.17

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Corner markers and monuments in moderate to high fire severity.
Photo: US Forest Service; date unknown.
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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

Non-recreation Special Uses

There are none in the burned area.


Generally, the changed conditions present more hazard trees and slippery soils.
Hazardous materials stored on NFS land were not affected by the fire. It is assumed that
any chemicals that volatilized in the fire have dispersed and do not pose a direct threat to
air or water quality. All Forest Service facilities have been inspected to ensure safe
operation, including campsites, campgrounds, trails, and roads. If safety hazards were
found and not immediately corrected, the facilities were closed (see the recreation

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

5. Scenic Resources
The topography along the Gunflint Trail (Cook County 12) within the burned area is
rolling with limited views beyond the foreground. The fire burned in a variety of
intensities, there are scattered areas of high intensity intercepted with moderate and low
intensity. From the road itself it seems that the high intensity burning occurred along the
majority of the last seven mile of the Gunflint Trail. In these areas of high intensity most
if not all of the forested vegetation was killed. The viewshed should remain natural in
appearance as fire-killed trees will begin to decay and fall. Forest canopy and big-tree
appearance have been reduced along the Gunflint corridor in the burned area.
Approximately, the last 7 miles of the Gunflint trail were burnt over leaving only dead
standing trees. As such, the public will have an opportunity to witness the natural
processes that occur after a fire. For a period of time there will be a number of trees both
on the ground and standing in various stags of decay.

Moderate to high fire severity along the Gunflint Trail.
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 19, 2007.
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Fire line needed to be unnaturally straight in order to protect public and firefighter safety,
however, openings created during the Ham lake fire that were not directly created by the
fire were rehabilitated with the use of heavy equipment and hand crews pulling in and
transplanting vegetation to soften the appearance and speed up recovery of disturbed
areas. The impacts of suppression to the viewshed of the Gunflint Trail corridor are

Table 12. Ham Lake Fire –
Scenic Integrity Objectives
(SIO) in the burned area
SIO Acres
High 8,469
Moderate 4,382
Low 0

Table 12 lists the acres of Forest Plan Scenic Integrity Objectives (SIO). Two-thirds of
the burned area is in the High SIO. The High SIO areas are along roads, trails, and
recreation sites, and moderate SIO areas are everywhere else in this area because it is in

Between campsites in moderate to high fire severity at Iron Lake Campground.
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 19, 2007.
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the Recreation Use in a Scenic Landscape management area.

Evidence of suppression activities (such as flagging, equipment maintenance, and staging
areas) has been removed and cleaned up following suppression (or sooner) in High SIO
areas. For example, crews walked and removed all flagging hanging along the corridor
after containment of the fire.

View from a side road near Tuscarora Lodge.
Photo: US Forest Service, M. Theimer; June 19, 2007.
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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

6. Recreation & Wilderness
The burned area provides the same range of recreational opportunities, with the exception
of the Iron Lake Campground and the Seagull Creek snowmobile trail bridge, both of
which are closed for public health and safety. The Iron Lake Campground closure
impacts the concessionaire contract (the campground will be closed until further notice).

Iron Lake Campground is also a carry-down water access site and will also be closed
until further notice due to the campground closure in general. The steps leading down to
the shore for water access are burned over. Once the water access steps in Iron Lake
Campground are restored, the capacity and type of recreational use there be will remain
the same as before the fire.

Moderate to high fire severity at Iron Lake Campground;
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 19, 2007.
Witnessing fire as a natural process, man-made or not, helps the semi-primitive areas
maintain a remote, natural setting. The Ham Lake Fire will provide for new forage, and
perhaps improve hunting opportunities. The Ham Lake Fire may provide for more
wildlife viewing opportunities due to new snags for birds and new growth for forage.
Trail closures are in place for visitor safety. Once the Kekekabic Trail is open for foot

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

travel (expected to reopen July 2007), fire affects will provide opportunities for
interpreting fire’s role on the landscape, as well as changed conditions for hunting and
bird watching.

Facilities that were universally accessible before the fire are still accessible.


The fire was managed according to our wilderness plan and fire plan. Fire is part of
perpetuating the unique natural ecosystem, and helps provide for a primitive reaction
experience. the effects of the fire in the BWCAW are associated with natural phenomena
and part of a dominant force in the ecosystem. Fire suppression in wilderness can
degrade the soil, air, water, vegetation, wildlife and fish – mitigation and restoration were
employed on the suppression damage. Many hazard trees were cut in campsites and
along portages for visitor safety, negatively affecting wilderness character.

Campsites that may need to be closed per wilderness management plan direction were
automatically closed due to fire, and may remain closed (Table 13). Due to campsite
closures based on resource protection and visitor safety, established use quotas were
reduced to match campsite availability. Many hazard trees were cut in campsites and
along portages for visitor safety negatively affecting wilderness character.
Interdisciplinary teams were used in association with BEAR concerning campsite
decisions, i.e., heritage resource concerns. Consistent with wilderness management, only
burned latrines were replaced if there was a resource protection need.

The Ham Lake Fire will provide fire ecology in wilderness education opportunity, and
help with wilderness education goals. Due to campsite closures based on resource
protection and visitor safety, established use quotas were reduced to match campsite
availability. Some commercial operations were temporarily stalled due to closed
BWCAW entry points, but they have reopened.

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Table 13. Ham Lake Fire – Wilderness
Campsite Survey Results
Campsites affected by Ham Lake Fire 47
Campsites needing treatment 38
Campsite closures 16
Latrine replacements 28

Post-fire BWCAW campsite conditions (Map 14: Ham Lake Fire Severity and
Campsites) include jackstraw and hazard trees, burned over latrines and water bars,
standing snags, down trees over sites and trails, burned over landings, and moderately
burned vegetation to no vegetation which will contribute to campsite expansion should
the site open before vegetation recovery begins.

Remains of a campsite in moderate to high fire severity at Iron Lake Campground;
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 19, 2007.
Thirty-eight wilderness campsites need treatment and 11 do not need treatment. Sixteen
sites were proposed for closure for the entire season for campsite recovery and more
intensive work, but gradually some of those are now opening. More intensive work may

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

include erosion control on boat landings, vegetation projects, and time for natural
campsite recovery.

Post-fire work included hazard trees (saw or explosives) over the campsite or latrine,
removing flagging or signs, clearing the latrine trail, replacing latrines, possibly moving
the latrine hole after heritage surveys, clearing tree fall and dangerous debris from the
camp area, water bar installation, check dams, and reinforcing landings or latrine trail
switchbacks due to erosion. Post fire rehab work was covered by either the P Code or
BAER and is close to complete.

Table 14. Ham Lake Fire – Campgrounds (CG)
Number Status
Campgrounds in Ham Lake Fire 2 Closed
Camp sites affected by fire – Iron Lake CG and water
access carry down steps 7 (all)
7 + CG,
Camp sites affected by fire – Trails End CG and water
system 7 (of 33) 0
Camp sites needing treatment – Iron Lake CG 7
Camp sites needing treatment – Trails End CG 3


Post-fire campground conditions include hazard trees in camp and along the campground
road, standing snags, down trees over sites, burned water access steps, burned over water
system (Trails End CG), and an entire campground (Iron Lake CG) burned over and
needed a full closure (Table 14). Once the water access steps in Iron Lake Campground
are restored, the capacity and type of use there will remain the same. Hazardous trees
were removed from both Iron Lake and Trails End Campgrounds. Once the Iron Lake
Campground opens, all applicable signs will be replaced. Signs at Trails End
Campground have already been replaced.

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Trails and Portages

Trail closures are in place for visitor safety (Table 15). Once the Kekekabic Trail is open
for foot travel, fire affects will provide opportunities for interpreting fire’s role on the
landscape, as well as changed conditions for hunting and bird watching.

Those trails affected by the Ham Lake Fire will have safety information available
concerning visitor safety at the trail head and ranger stations.

Post-fire trail conditions on the Kekekabic Trail included two fences surrounding old test
pits from previous mining exploration, and possible left over mining explosives. The
Magnetic Rock, Banadad, and Border Route Trail sections do not pose any values at risk.
The Seagull Creek Snowmobile bridge on the Gunflint Snowmobile Trail was burned,
needing full replacement. Post fire rehab work at portages was covered by either the P
Code or BAER and is close to complete (Table 16).

Table 15. Ham Lake Fire - Trail Survey Results
Miles Status
Kekekabic Trail 3.5 3.5 miles Closed until July 1,
Banadad Trail 2.0 0 closed
Magnetic Rock Trail 2.0 0 closed
Border Route and Crab Spur Trails 6.5 0 closed
Gunflint Snowmobile Trail NA Seagull Creek Bridge gone
Total 14.0

Table 16. Ham Lake Fire - Portage Survey Results
Number Closed
Total number of Portages in Ham Lake Fire 4 0
Portages Affected by Fire 18 0
Portages Needing Work 14 0

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Moderate to high fire severity at Iron Lake Campground;
Photo: US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 19, 2007.
Initial Response (BAER funded)


• 26 latrines destroyed on Saganaga Lake and Granite River, all funded through
BAER, half the toilets installed.
• Campsite safety work on 38 sites – hazard tree removal, erosion control,
jackstraw removal (90% of work complete), and brushing - funded through BAER
and P code.
• Campsite closure – 16 sites were closed to prevent resource damage and visitor
safety, funded through BAER and P code.
• Campsite closure patrol – funded through BAER.

• Iron Lake Campground burned over – facilities lost include entry bulletin board
and internal bulletin board, 1 picnic table, water access steps, 2 parking bumpers,
2 hand water pumps lost leather gaskets, BAER funded campground closure
swing gate, hazard tree removal funded by P code.
• Trails End Campground partially burned – facilities lost include entire water
system including the pump house with generator and fencing/pipes around water
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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

tank, 2 water station posts burned, hazard tree removal covered by P code, water
system unfunded.

Trails and Portages

• 950 rods of portage cleared on P code.
• The Kekekabic, Banadad, Magnetic and Border Route trails sustained damage.
• The Kekekabic Trail lost warning fences around old mining pits, fences were
rebuilt funded by BAER.
• To assess the danger of potentially unexploded ordinances, the area surrounding
old exploratory mining pits along the Kekekabic Trail was assessed - regular
crew time.
• Hazard trees were removed from the Kekekabic and Magnetic Trails funded by P
• The Seagull Creek Snowmobile bridge on The Gunflint Snowmobile Trail burned
over and was not funded for a rebuild.
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7. Terrestrial Wildlife Habitat and Vegetation
Terrestrial wildlife, vegetation and structure for wildlife, and ecosystem processes
benefited from the Ham Lake Fire by gaining the range of severity and patchiness that
wildfire naturally produces along with the unique features obtained only through stand
replacement fire. The variety and rarity of ecological conditions created by the Ham
Lake fire contribute to many Forest Plan objectives and desired conditions for wildlife
(e.g., wildlife habitats are diverse, healthy, productive, and resilient)

The Ham Lake, Alpine Lake, and Cavity Lake fires have increased the size diversity for
large, young forested openings, especially in the Jack pine-Black spruce LE. Most of
(77%) of the areas burned area in the Ham Lake Fire is in the Jack Pine-Black Spruce
Landscape Ecosystem. Within the fire perimeter, outside the BWCAW, young forest in
the Jack Pine-Black Spruce LE increased from 69% (6,125 NFS acres) to 83% (7,416
NFS acres). Forest-wide, outside the BWCAW, 2.8 percent of the Jack Pine- Black
Spruce LE on was moved to a young forest condition. Ecosystem processes have
improved conditions for wildlife on this 2.8 percent of the Jack Pine- Black Spruce LE
through fire’s natural range of effects by gaining the severity and patchiness that wildfire
naturally produces along with the unique features obtained only through stand
replacement fire.

The Ham Lake Fire contributes to the size of the adjacent wildfires and prescribed fires
that have occurred since 1999. This cumulative area is on the small end of the range of
fire sizes that occurred in the BWCAW during the pre Euro-American settlement period.
Large patches (greater than 1,000 acres) were created by the fire and contain habitat
elements unique to fire.

The size of the fire is large enough to affect meta populations of small-territory species
such as small birds and mammals. Populations of some species can increase within the
burn area in response to the fire effects.

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

Populations of some bird species, including wood peckers and warblers, increase
markedly during and toward the end of insect outbreaks caused by wind and fire
disturbances. Increased food resources from insect infestations can improve nesting
success of birds. Increased cavity tree availability can increase nesting success and
localized population levels. The Ham Lake and other nearby wildfires offer abundant
snags in a range of densities and a full range of size classes. Over 32 species of birds and
many mammals use cavities for nesting, denning, and roosting. Cavity tree preference
increases with increased tree diameter.

Small mammals and ungulates are most abundant immediately post disturbance, and
decrease as stands age. Moose benefit because of the large area of young forest and bears
benefit from the increase and diversity in food availability. Increased berry and grub
food resources may lead to fewer bear-human interactions near residences.

Plant species richness and structural complexity are frequently increased by fire. Snag
composition, large fire, especially when considered along with Alpine and Cavity fires
have reduced habitat fragmentation in this portion of the forest.

Openings along the Gunflint Trail improve wildlife viewing opportunities unlike
anywhere else on the Forest’s roadsides, especially birding in the fire’s perimeter as bird
species respond to the increased foraging and nesting habitat created by the fire. Berry
picking will be accessible from the Gunflint Trail.

Three-toed & Black-backed Woodpeckers

Excellent three-toed and black-backed woodpecker habitat has been created by the fire.
Insect invasions and population increase will favor these woodpeckers and increase their
foraging and nesting opportunities for the next decade. The foraging opportunities are on
undamaged portions of lightly to moderately burned spruces. The majority of cavity
nesting birds are insectivorous and play an important role in the control of forest insect
pests. Three-toed woodpeckers are nomadic and can exhibit irruptive behavior in
response to insect outbreaks after forest disturbance events such as the Ham Lake Fire.

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Abundance of snags, in a variety of densities and sizes offers excellent foraging,
drumming, and nesting habitat for three-toed woodpeckers.

There are no nest sites are known, but nesting surveys for this species are not completed
on the Forest. The fire is located in the Superior NF’s most suitable range for three-toed
woodpeckers. A wide variety of snag tree species, heights, diameters, densities, and death
rates of trees will provide high-quality habitat for up to 5 years as trees continue to die.
In burned conifer forests, the most valuable wildlife snags are significantly larger than
expected owing to chance, and are more likely to be thick barked than thin barked tree

Bald Eagle & Osprey

Eagle nest trees that had fuel reduction treatments prior to prescribed burns survived the
Ham Lake Fire in good condition. Known eagle and osprey nests locations within the
fire perimeter were distributed to Division Supervisors during the fire. Protection of nests
trees was encouraged and completed whenever possible with regard to fire fighter safety.
Trails End and Little Gunflint eagle nests and nest trees survived the fire. One active,
new nest was found after the fire and within the perimeter of the fire. White pines of a
size adequate for bald eagle and osprey nesting, old-growth aged, are becoming rare at
the end of the Gunflint Trail. Most of the large snags from the Roy lake and Saganaga
Lake fires have fallen down.

Canada Lynx

There are no known lynx denning sites within the fire perimeter. This fire falls within the
range of habitat characteristics to which lynx are adapted. Ham Lake Fire promotes
recovery of lynx because large scale fire provides the habitat and structural diversity
needed by lynx that has been in short supply since European settlement. In 3-12 years
the Ham Lake and portions of adjacent wildfires will provide abundant snowshoe hare
habitat for Canada lynx. Fingers of live conifer adjacent to regenerating forest will
provide cover for hare. Regeneration of burned jack pine plantations will increase red

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

squirrel habitat in the future. Dead and dying trees, and especially large snags, will
provide lynx denning habitat as they fall and become hollow. Remaining areas of
unburned uplands will provide travel corridors for lynx across large burned areas and the
Gunflint Trail corridor.

Gray Wolf

Wolves are present in the burn area, however, there are no known gray wolf denning sites
within the fire perimeter. Large openings with nearby thermal cover in unburned fingers
of forest and rejuvenating shrub wetlands will provide excellent moose habitat and wolf
prey habitat.

Regional Forester Sensitive Species (RFSS)

The fire may have had positive, negative, or inconsequential effects for known RFSS
plant populations in the burn, but the fire was a natural process affecting these

There is a verified location for Heather voles in the burn area. Burns can have effects on
small mammal populations causing individual species populations to fluctuate in
response to each other. Increases in small mammal populations may occur in response to
insect availability. Predators of small mammals would benefit from population increases.

Tiger beetle habitat has been increased by the exposure of bedrock, crevasses, and rock
spalding. Exposed rock offers display areas and crevasses and rock spalding offers
protection for larvae.

Fire in lowland conifer stands has improved olive-sided flycatcher habitat by opening up
the canopy and creating trees suitable for singing and hunting perches.

Fire also improves blueberry and most likely dwarf bilberry growth and density. Habitat
for bilberry may increase.

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One of the new condition caused by the Ham Lake Fire is highly visible exposure of large
amounts of surface bedrock. Prior to the fire, much of this bedrock was hidden by tree
canopy or beds of moss and lichen. Although it may look barren now, these areas
provide good habitat for a variety of native plants that are otherwise not that common,
such as Bicknell’s geranium, bristly sarsaparilla, fringed black bindweed, and pale
corydalis. These species benefit from the fire creating good habitat, and they gradually
decline as the moss, lichen, and tree canopy return.

There is a verified record of boreal owl nesting in the Ham Lake burn area, but no known
nests in area at this time. The Ham Lake Fire is in the normal range of the Boreal Owl
and has restored quality habitat in the form of dead and dying aspen trees. Lowland
black spruce wetland complexes are spread throughout the western half of the Ham Lake
Fire burn area.

There are no known nests in area. Lowland black spruce wetland complexes are spread
throughout the western half of the Ham Lake Fire burn area. Large snags may provide
nesting habitat.

Management Indicator Habitats

MIH evaluation focused on the change of upland mature and older forest to young forest
(MIH 1a) in the areas of high and moderate severity burn. The Ham Lake Fire
contributes toward Forest Plan objectives to increase MIH 1a, young and seedling open,
in both the Jack pine-Black Spruce LE and Lowland Conifer(a) LE. However, the fire
did not contribute to objectives of decreasing young on the Mesic Birch-Aspen-Spruce-
Fir and Mesic Red and White Pine LEs.

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8. Non-native Invasive Plants (NNIP)
Prior to the Ham Lake Fire, we were fortunate to have relatively low levels of most nonnative
invasive plants (NNIP). There were 76 sites (2.54 acre) known to be infested with
invasive plants within the fire perimeter (this doesn’t include hawkweeds or oxeye daisy,
which are ubiquitous and we do not attempt to inventory). Invasives were known
primarily from roadsides, gravel pits, old log landings, and trailsides. The known NNIP
that are within the burn perimeter are: bull thistle, Canada thistle, cypress spurge, oxeye
daisy, orange hawkweed, yellow hawkweed, spotted knapweed, and tansy. All known
NNIP infestations on the upper Gunflint Trail (i.e. the road itself) were treated with
herbicide in summer 2006.

The fire, fire suppression activities, and post-fire rehabilitation activities have created a
lot of new areas that will be highly susceptible to weed invasion over the next several
years. Weeds will show up on the areas described above (i.e. roadsides, gravel pits, etc.)
as well as along dozer lines, and in the burned area itself, particularly on rock outcrops.
For most invasive plants, the detection and eradication efforts (see below) will limit their
spread. Orange and yellow hawkweeds, however, will spread irreversibly as a result of
the Ham Lake Fire, and will be found on more rock outcrops as a result of the fire. As
native grasses, forbs, and shrubs regenerate over the next several months and years, the
amount of habitat susceptible to NNIP will drop rapidly.

The two activities being implemented in the summer of 2007 are weed detection and
eradication. Inventories of areas impacted by fire suppression (e.g. incident command
post, base camp, dozer lines, gravel pits) and of a sample areas impacted by just the burn
will be conducted and new infestations will be mapped. Any new infestations will be
either hand pulled, or added to an existing herbicide spray contract. In early July a
contractor will treat known weed infestations on Forest Service lands along the Gunflint
Trail under an existing Forest-wide NNIP Management EA.

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9. Soil, Watershed, Water Quality & Fisheries
The fire burned completely over the watersheds of some streams. The HUC-6 level
watershed Granite River was burned over (including the entire watershed of Larch Creek)
as well as large portion of Seagull Creek (Map 15: Ham Lake Fire Watersheds; Table
17). The intensity of potential morphological changes is muted by the relatively flat
slopes and available storage capacity within the watersheds. This means these
watersheds are more than 60% open and young.

The Ham Lake Fire did not change the watersheds’ ability to function as a healthy part of
the ecosystem and continue to provide for State, tribal, and local uses.

Table 17. Ham Lake Fire – Watersheds affected by
the fire
Acres in the
040101010803 Brule R, N Fk, Lower 29,823
040101011003 Rose L 26,476
090300010203 Seagull R, Upper 22,732
090300010105 Extortion Cr 21,361
090300010204 Seagull R, Lower 18,761
090300010102 Chub R 14,285
090300010201 Gunflint L 13,662
090300010202 Granite R 13,144
040101010804 Brule R, N Fk, Upper 10,891

Air Quality

The Ham Lake Fire’s effects on air quality is no longer a concern, however some of soil
compounds, including mercury, may have volatilized when they burned very hot.

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

Volatilized materials have dissipated. In future, if the Ham Lake Fire area were to burn
again, it would put out less smoke than it would if it hadn’t burned.


The burn area has a variety of rock types that influence topography and soil development
within the Vermillion Geomorphic Province. Generally, the burn area is comprised of
Saganaga granodiorite intrusives, Knife Lake Group argillite, slate, phyllite, biotite
schist, and metagraywacke, Knife Lake Group conglomerate and felsic metavolcanics,
metabasalt with some metadiabase rocks, and Duluth Complex tractolite and anorthosite.
The area mainly has bedrock outcrops and shallow soils. The most pronounced structure
is a fairly well developed set of faults with directions of failure trending to the NW and
NE. The faults provide zones of weakness that have been exploited by weathering and
glacial erosion, creating lake basins. Large lakes tend to be located at the junctions of
faults or groups of faults.

The fire increased the short-term discharge of washload sediment from the landscape to
the streams and lakes because of the open landscape. Nutrients associated with this
sediment become available to the aquatic life potentially increasing the biomass and
modifying the short-term structure of the systems. Phosphorus is the most common
limiting nutrient in the northern systems, hence the impact on the biomass is generally
dependant upon the amount of available phosphorus. Some studies have shown an
increase in nitrogen can occur after a fire with a smaller impact on phosphorus. The role
of these pulses of nutrient fluxes associated with fire is not well understood, but may be
an important component of the long-term nutrient cycles in northern lakes. The Ham
Lake Fire is not expected to impair long-term uses or ecological viability of the water
resources of the SNF.

In addition to nutrients, there may be an influx of mercury associated with the increased
washload contribution. This is presently under study in the Superior National Forest, and
the Ham Lake Fire will not modify the existing study.

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There is likely a short term impact on the total suspended solids concentration within the
streams and lakes associated with the increased washload as described above. The
watershed contribution of washload sediment to the systems will likely reach pre-fire
conditions relatively quickly as revegetation occurs to reduce raindrop energy and
increase resistance to erosion.

Watersheds that have been completely burned over can expect a wholesale change to
young forested mix. A change from older coniferous forest to a young forest can lead to
increased stream power associated with a change in spring melt conditions (more sunlight
allows the snow to melt faster). This change in hydrology can lead to a change in the
stream morphology, habitat quality, and aquatic life. The impact of these changes to
aquatic life is directly related to the interconnectedness of the system. Hence, measures
to ensure the systems are not fragmented by roadway / stream crossings or other physical
or velocity barriers is important to the long-term resiliency of the aquatic life.

The stream channel morphology may change due to changes in the hydrology as
described above. Maintaining longitudinal connectiveness is important to promoting
long-term aquatic health. However, the relatively flat slopes and available watershed
storage will likely reduce the magnitude of the morphological changes.


All soils in the burn area are derived from glacial drift over bedrock. Soils that are
shallow to bedrock dominate the area, making up between 60-80% of the soils. Slopes
are moderate (10 to 30 %) to steep (20 to 60 %, although typically on the lower end of
this range)) over most of the burn area. Soil surface textures are generally loamy tills and
sandy outwash. Organic layer depths are highly variable. An organic layer of two to
three inches deep would normally occur in ridge top and upper slope positions whereas
four to six inch average depths of duff may occur in lower slope positions and wetter
areas. Gravels, cobbles and rock fragments make up significant portions of the soil

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profile in the upland soil groups. Exposed rock and bedrock varies with LTA and slope
position but it can be as high as 30%. Soils are generally well-drained. Water movement
in the soils is as interflow during the frost free and snow free periods. Table 18 lists the
landtype associations in the burned areas and their dominate ecological landtypes (ELT).

Table 18. Ham Lake Fire – Landtype Associations (LTA)
LTA Percent of
Burned Area Dominant ELTs
212La21 – Saganaga Lake Formation 61% 1, 2, 6, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18
212La23 Ely – Knife Lake Formation 15% 13, 14, 16, 17
212La14 - Rove Slate Shallow Moraine 11% 1, 2, 6, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18
212La13 - Gabbro Lake Shallow Moraine
LTA 7% 2, 6, 16, 17, 18
212La22 - Poplar Lake Shallow Ground
Moraine 7% 6, 11, 16, 17

Water Quality, Runoff, Soil Erosion, and Productivity

BAER soil and water specialists assessed (by air and ground) the effects of the fire on
soil and watershed conditions by evaluating surface soil conditions (organic layer
consumption, soil heating, and water repellency) and determining the extent and level of
burn severity. The burned area has some sensitive soils, see Table 18; however, some of
the burned area has been mapped but the Forest Service does not have this data
electronically yet. Map 16 shows the ELTs in the burned area and highlights the missing

Current site conditions are such that emergency rehabilitation treatments to protect the
soil and water quality from further erosion or site productivity losses are not needed. Soil
properties have not been significantly altered. Soils still have moderate to high
infiltration rates, organic litter still exists over most soils, and bare soil areas are
relatively small and discontinuous. The exposed surfaces are very rough, due to the
coarse surface fragments and residual large woody debris. These features will help in

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

breaking up any surface runoff, limiting the chance of rill or gully formation. The many
rocks and cobbles will act as small retention areas to trap soil particles dislodged by
raindrop impact and surface runoff, limiting the distance of soil movement that is
displaced. Neither mass wasting nor delivery of large amounts of sediment to streams or
lakes is expected. Though significant losses of total above ground biomass have occurred
over much of the area, these should be viewed as short term losses.

Based on observed conditions within the 2005 Alpine Fire and 2006 Cavity Lake Fire,
moderate to severely burned areas are recovering well. Within the Alpine Fire there was
some evidence of sheet erosion and short distance soil displacement. However, the rough
slope characteristics acted to retain the soil on site. The remaining surface organic matter
was still present. Vegetation cover varies from 30-50% on the rockier and more severe
burned areas, to nearly 100% in deeper soil areas. No rill or gully erosion was detected.

Mostly intact soil in moderate fire severity
US Forest Service, E. Hahn; June 19, 2007.
Overall, the affects of the fire on soil and water resources has been mitigated by the
combination of moist soil conditions that are typical during the spring, topography (i.e.
broken/discontinuous, short and gentle slopes) and the fast moving nature (wind-driven)
of the fire, which resulted in a low residence burn time. Additionally, much of the fire

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

burned in a mosaic pattern across the landscape. The BEAR’s final conclusion of the soil
and watershed team members is that there is no watershed emergency.

In addition to nutrients, there may be an influx of mercury associated with the increased
washload contribution. This is presently under study in the Superior National Forest.
The Ham Lake Fire will not modify the existing study.

Fisheries Populations, Habitat and Aquatic NNIS

Riparian filtering is accomplished by the forest litter and understory vegetation that
increases resistance to flow and flow path lengths. The depressional storage is also an
important component to filtering stormwater runoff. These components reduce the
velocity of the overland flow which provides greater opportunity for infiltration and for
sediment to be dropped from the water column. Revegetation of the forest provides some
short-term filtering of runoff and the filtering capacity of the forest floor will increase as
forest litter accumulates.

The BEAR team did not consider fish populations, habitat, riparian areas, and wetlands
to be values at risk. It was determined post-fire water quality impacts to nearby surface
waters and the possible negative effects to fish populations and habitat was low within
both low and moderate burn severity areas. Overall impacts to riparian areas and
wetlands were generally considered low to moderate although effects varied among sites.
Based upon observations in the Alpine Lake and Cavity Lake burned areas, it was
determined that the Ham Lake Fire would have no long-term negative effects to fishery
resources. Trees killed by the fire within two tree lengths of streams and lakes can
contribute to the aquatic system as large or coarse woody debris, improving habitat.

Roads and Stream Crossings

Crossings that are not natural bottom, i.e., bridges, can become perched with channel
degradation or possibly become undersized with channel aggradation. Channel
aggradation and degradation occur as the stream adopts to a change in the hydrology and

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

sediment supply regimes.

The BEAR assessed road and stream crossing conditions (Table 19). They looked at the
influences of burn severity upstream from road crossings, channel characteristics, and
culvert conditions (including size) to assess the potential for culverts becoming plugged
and causing washouts following storm runoff. They concluded that areas immediately
upstream from road-stream crossings were not burned severely enough to generate
increased runoff or source materials sufficient to plug culverts and that existing culverts
were sufficiently sized to handle expected flows and debris.

Table 19. Ham Lake Fire - Miles
of Stream Channels by Order or
Lake Connector 56.9
Wetland Connector 10.9
Perennial Stream 38.5
Total 106.3

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10. Public Information & Partnerships
Fire Effects / New Condition

The Ham Lake Fire provided an opportunity to work with our Partners in a meaningful
way. Fire operations clearly benefited from the relationships developed well in advance
of the fire; from pre-incident planning and preparations; and from the many pre-existing
partnerships. Antidotal evidence suggests that all entities worked together effectively and
felt that the fire brought agencies and people closer. It has been suggested by many that
we continue our efforts to work together and plan so that in future events, the work that
we all do will continue to run smoothly and the needs of the public will be met.

We are at a perfect place from which to build upon our relationships, expand to other
parts of the Forest, and create joint solutions to issues we wish to tackle, specifically how
to be even more prepared in the event of another fire, and which steps do we need to take
to help prevent a future fire from occurring or to mitigate negative effects when a fire
does occur?

Initial Response

• The Forest Service (District) began discussions with the County and other entities
before the fire was contained and has met multiple times to discuss post fire needs
and priorities and appropriate roles.
• One outcome, on Saturday, June 23, 2007, was a community meeting in the
Gunflint District that partners and the Forest Service coordinated in an effort to
provide information to the public.
• The County took the lead on developing a handout that lists various info sources
and resources for private landowners.
• On Friday, June 29, 2007 a community meeting is planned for Ely. This meeting
was called by the Forest Service and involves our partners. It will provide basic
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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

information to the public about agencies response to wildfires and preparation

work to prevent wildfires and mitigate effects.

The Ham Lake Fire and post-fire situation tests and validates prior fire-related public
information and partnership efforts on the Forest in terms of working cooperatively with
many partners to protect and enhance physical, social and economic resources.

By coordinating public information and public services closely with others involved in an
incident we were able to determine the most appropriate entity to address specific public
concerns and avoid duplication or even worse, confusion. We also pooled resources with
other organizations to meet mutual goals that would have been very difficult to do
individually. One example is the Joint Information Center, located at the Cook County
Courthouse and staffed by agencies. The Center resulted from a standing agreement
between the FS and County. It functioned as a conduit from the IMT and clearing house
for fire-related info. Regular media briefings, internet info, printed updates, and phone
lines along with face-to-face contacts provided information for hundreds of media,
evacuees, businesses, other agencies and organizations. Another example is the ongoing
post-fire effort to coordinate public information and assistance with other partners.
References are being prepared and at least two public meetings have already occurred.

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11. Heritage Resources
The Paulson Mine site (FS #02-653/02-654)

The Paulson Mine, an early 1888-1893 iron ore mine located east on the Kekekabic Trail,
is a potentially NRHP eligible site which played a large role in the initial development of
the Gunflint Trail. The site retains numerous features including railroad beds, wagon
roads, test pits, and collapsed cabin/administration buildings. The Paulson Mine was also
the terminus of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway. The railway, completed in
1893, was initially planned to connect Thunder Bay to Duluth.

The Paulson Mine site was burned over around 5/12-5/13/2007 during the Ham Lake
Wildfire. A walkover survey of the site area was completed shortly after the fire, and
BAER funds were acquired to rebuild the fences around the identified mine shafts.
Additional work would facilitate future management of the site and assess the damage
caused by the fire.

The Kekekabic Trail no longer has warning fences around the old mining pits. To assess
the danger of potentially unexploded ordinances, the area surrounding old exploratory
mining pits along the Kekekabic Trail was assessed on May 25, 2007 (via air and
ground) by Jon Hakala Superior NF explosive technician, other Superior NF personnel,
and an explosives contractor. The assessment did not find any remaining explosive
material. Therefore, it was determined that there is no immediate threat to the health and
safety of Kekekabic Trail users.

The Beckwith PDRR site (FS #02-701)

The Beckwith PDRR site is an early railroad trestle (1902-1910) which spans a drainage
just east of Gunflint Lake. Prior to the Ham Lake Fire, the trestle stood as a rather
impressive engineering accomplishment; the 400ft trestle was constructed out of earth
and horizontally laid cordwood which rose approximately 30-50ft from top to bottom.

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Ham Lake Fire Rapid Assessment Report

The trestle was still smoldering when visited on 5/20/2007. At that time, approximately
one third of the trestle had been completely destroyed and portions appeared to be near
collapse. Despite this, the PDRR trestle may still retain sufficient integrity to be eligible
to the NRHP and additional work should be completed prior to the 2007 Heritage Annual

Clove Lake Area Archaeological Site Assessments

Numerous archaeological sites were affected by the Ham Lake Fire in the Gunflint Lake-
Saganaga Lake BWCAW canoe route. This canoe route envelopes a series of lakes and
rivers commonly lumped together as the Granite River. This route was used extensively
between 1680-1850 as a major transshipment point for trade goods destined for points
east and west. As such, there are numerous archaeological sites in the area which retain
artifacts and features from this significant time period. A heritage assessment of the
northern portion of this route (Sag-Marabouef Lake) was completed between 6/13-6/20
during the Granite River Emergency Assessment Team (BAER funds). As was expected,
the enhanced ground visibility which followed the fire facilitated the identification of
new archaeological sites, expanded the site boundaries of known archaeological sites, and
exposed many significant artifacts.

The enhanced ground visibility in the area presents an opportunity for the unlawful
collecting of artifacts on BWCAW campsites with archaeological components. A heritage
assessment should be conducted on the southern portion of this canoe route prior to the
completion of the 2007 Heritage Annual Report. This survey will mitigate the possibility
of uncontrolled collecting, increase the site inventory for that area, and allow for the
refinement/updating of site maps and condition assessments of previously inventoried
archaeological sites.

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