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National Forest air quality monitoring contributes to international partnership

Trent provides tailgate air quality talk at the Fernberg Air Monitoring Station. Forest Service photo.

WASHINGTON — The Superior National Forest recently hosted the annual steering committee meeting for the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments, an international network of agencies in charge of monitoring visibility. This partnership is essential to monitoring air quality across jurisdictional boundaries at the local, state and national levels. In the United States, the focus is on certain national parks and wilderness areas termed Class I air sheds, as designated under the Federal Clean Air Act.

In conjunction with the IMPROVE meeting, Eastern Region Air Quality Specialist Trent Wickman and Superior National Forest Hydrologic Technician James Anderson led a field trip to the Fernberg Air Quality monitoring site. The site is located within the Superior National Forest and is adjacent to and overlooks the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It has been in operation since the late 1970s, collecting critical data that has been used in many assessments over the years. Monitoring at Fernberg helps the Forest Service fulfil its mandate to protect the BWCAW as a Class I air shed. The site tracks air pollutant trends, some going back to the early 1980s. Data from the site supported implementation of the State of Minnesota acid rain rule; one of the first in the country.

At least 15 different monitoring studies have taken place over the years at the site and many continue to this day, including collecting visibility data to support the Regional Haze Rule.  

Other ongoing air quality-related monitoring is also taking place across the Superior National Forest, including levels of mercury in fish, lichen as an important indicator species of air pollution, and lake water quality.

Key partners in this initiative include the State of Minnesota, the Province of Ontario, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, National Atmospheric Deposition Program, and Superior National Forest.