May 2008


Thanks to the DNR’s Meg Hanisch and Keith Jacobson for sharing the Division of Forestry’s summary of major 2008 legislative outcomes affecting our state’s forests.

Vital Forest/Vital Communities partners and programs had a positive impact on a number of the funding and policy decisions, including the appropriation for Forest Legacy conservation easements, the allocation to the Minnesota Forest Resources Council for a study of policy tools for preventing forest fragmentation and parcelization (co-funded by Blandin Foundation), the Minnesota Forests for the Future program and adjustments in the way sustainably managed woodlands are taxed.

Changing the way our woodlands are accessed and taxed was one of the key recommendations identified by participants in the 2006 and 2007 Family Forest Stewardship conferences as part of a strategy to achieve the goal, embraced by over 20 organizations, to increase the number of acres of family forestland with Forest Stewardship Management Plans from 1.3 million to 2.3 million by 2015.

Congratulations are particularly in order to Bruce ZumBahlen, his colleagues at the Minnesota Forestry Association, Jeff Forester and the Minnesota Seasonal Recreational Property Owners Association and Tom Kroll for their hard work on helping achieve these improvements to the Omnibus Tax Bill. Your vision, collaboration, and tenacity made it happen!

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Project MapThe shear magnitude of this project was enough to catch my eye. A 342,000 acre working forest conservation easement was recently closed in Washington County, Maine. The easement stitches together an incredible 1 million acres spanning the Maine and New Brunswick borders. At $34.8 million, the deal was “Locally incubated, locally led, and locally supported… to address the social and economic needs of Maine’s easternmost county.”

The full story, including a list of the partnering organizations, is on the New England Forestry Foundationwebsite.

While some Minnesota Forest Legacy Partners were in Ontario on the Canadian leg of the Seeing the Trees AND the Forest productivity tour, others gathered Thursday night at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis for the 15th annual Minnesota Environmental Initiative Award Ceremony. The Partnership won the Natural Resource Protection and Restoration award. Peggy Ladner of The Nature Conservancy accepted the award on behalf of the Partnership. A complete listing of nominees and winners is avaiable at MEI’s website.

Click here to listen to Blandin Foundation president and CEO Jim Hoolihan post-event podcast and learn more about the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership.

Minnesota Forest Legacy Partners at MEI Awards, 2008

Ontario’s forest products economy has seen “breathtaking change” over recent years, says Bill Towill, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  By one Ministry estimate, for example, more than half of those directly employed by the sector in 2001 no longer have their jobs.
 
And we gasped. 
 
“We” are a broad-ranging group of Minnesotans who, this week, stand before the stunning beauty and hard lessons of Ontario’s forests to learn and share.  We are the Blandin Foundation’s “Seeing the Forest AND the Trees” tour participants, a group of about 30 that landed this morning in Thunder Bay.
 
Our hosts, many of the province’s top natural resources officials, have been extraordinarily generous with their time and candid insights so that we can take home a lot more than sourvenir t-shirts.  For example, Bill Thornton, Assistant Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, says their forest economies are facing a “fundamental tranformation.” Because of the sector’s critical impact in the province, where more than 70% of manufacturing GDP is from forest products, Bill explained how coalitions of provincial leaders, municipal officials, industry, unions and others won hard-fought provincial policy changes to help spur recovery.
 
With possums in the south and polar bears in the north, this diverse land offers a wide range of lessons for us–bioenergy, biochemicals, impacts of a no-coal energy policy, climate change, American housing markets, rising costs and shrinking margins, and more.  The chatter on the bus back to the Best Western tonight was peppered with comparisons to Minnesota and of both opportunity and challenge. 
 
Check out the Vital Forests/Vital Communities section of the Foundation’s web site for more information about the Productivity Tour, and stay tuned for news of our plans for Scandinavia this fall.

Forest BiomassBlandin Foundation staff and partners have been busy following up on the energy and good ideas shared by the 40 plus folks who came together in Eveleth on April 29th to talk about harvesting woody biomass for energy. A summary of the event and links to the research reports written to inform the meeting, including “Woody Biomass for Energy in Minnesota: Consumption and Availability” are available on the Blandin Foundation website.

Based on existing evidence, report authors Jim Bowyer and Steve Bratkovitch of Dovetail Partners, Inc., conclude there appears to be room for significant expansion of biomass consumption for energy production in Minnesota. Forum participants received this news with some skepticism, however, cautioning that the data on availability need to be filtered through economic and environmental costs and sustainability implications.

Third generation logger Peter Wood asserted that his industry was ready to do the harvesting, as long as end users were ready to pay what it costs to get the job done. “Let the market work,” he said.

MCEA’s Matt Norton reminded the group that the higher end of the state’s maximum allowable cut established by the GEIS was based on the assumption that the recommended mitigations would be in place, which is not the case.

A small working group has met since the meeting to begin charting next steps. They are likely to include:

    • A phone survey of land managers to compile a more detailed picture of what forest biomass harvesting efforts are planned for the near term.

    • Development of a Scope of Work to invite a proposal to build a database to support information sharing and monitoring of biomass harvesting efforts

    • Design and delivery of a minimum of two biomass harvest guideline implementation demonstrations, under the leadership of MLEP with assistance from University of Minnesota Extension staff.

MNPost reporter Ron Way has written a nice overview of the issue, Once seen as waste, forest materials find a market, referencing several participants from the April 29th forum.

The Foundation welcomes your comments and ideas. As we move ahead, we want to be sure that our efforts to embrace this opportunity for forests, forest industry and forest-reliant communities benefit from lessons learned in other renewable energy market development efforts and avoid unintended consequences.