07/21/2014 04:29 EDT | Updated 09/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Parks Canada to use fire to protect Thousand Islands trees

MALLORYTOWN, Ont. - A small area on the Thousand Islands National Park will be set ablaze this week to help protect rare fire-dependent species, Parks Canada said Monday.

A 16-member team will descend Tuesday afternoon on Camelot Island to set fire to an area of just over one hectare that is home to about 50 pitch pine trees.

"They (the trees) need fires from time to time, so that they can persist," said Parks Supt. Jeff Leggo.

Fires will help them regenerate, clear away the organic layer and open the canopy giving more light for seedlings to grow, he said.

"They are not as susceptible to burning themselves as some of the competing trees are. We do expect there will be some mortality. The crews are doing some action to try to make them less susceptible," Leggo said.

Parks Canada said fire-dependent forest communities were historically managed naturally through lightning strikes and traditionally by First Nations people.

"Years of fire suppression has upset the balance of natural and essential processes needed to support healthy mixed forests in the Thousand Islands," it said.

Straddling the Canadian-U.S. border, the Thousand Islands archipelago is located 320 kilometres east of Toronto.

The area was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2002.

A few mainland properties and 22 islands form the 18-square-kilometre Thousand Islands National Park, which attracts about 38,000 visitors every year, Leggo said.

Parks Canada says it is a world leader in the use of fire as a method of restoring a natural process to the landscape, supporting ecosystem biodiversity and health.

"Part of the prescription is to burn up a bit of the duff layer on the forest floor... so will allow it to smoulder for overnight and part of the next day," said Leggo.

Three prescribed fires have been conducted on Thousand Islands in recent years — on Georgina and Gordon islands as well as at Mallorytown Landing.

As result of the fires, more pitch pine and Red Oak seedlings have been counted since monitoring began in the early 1970s, Parks Canada said.

"The park's overall experience in pitch pine restoration will be incorporated into a code of good practice that can be used by the park when planning further forest restoration actions," it added.

_ by Abdul Latheef in Toronto.