September 2008

By Itasca County Commissioner Lori Dowling, penned in her journal while travelling from Joensuu to Koli National Park, not far from the Russian border.

The colors and flavors of Finland are rich. The sun shines higher here and the colors absolutely pop. The golden birch trees stand tall and gleaming next to the majestic spruce. Basic architecture takes on an aura of artistry.

We marvel at the simple twists here such as pens made of wood and farm tractors turned into iconic fixtures.

Among all this, we bring our histories, experience and educations to research and explore some of the world’s richest timber resources. The various disciplines of this amazing group strategize how to bring it all home.

There is no doubt by day three that this tour already is a success–it will live on as a benchmark in Minnesota forest management. The superheroes of siliviculture have gathered in Scandinavia. Let the legacy begin.


Jim Sanders and Ambassador Barbara Barrett

Jim Sanders and Ambassador Barbara Barrett

Productivity Tour participant Jim Sanders is a 36-year veteran of the US Forest Service, the last 12 years as the Forest Superivor on the Superior National Forest.

What an action-packed, full day! And that was only Day One.

Sept. 29, we launched our European study and our day with top Finnish foresters presenting to those in our public policy study track (Dave Zumeta, Lori Dowling, Al Sullivan, Dave Schad). Mr. Aarne Reunala, director general for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry , focused on their national public policy and Dr. Antti Otsamo, forest director for Finnish Forest Industries Federation (an umbrella group of 63 organizations), spoke about systems change and the environmental review and permitting processes. Wow!

Thankfully, we had time to get out and soak in some of the crisp air and deep history of central Helsinki before heading to the U.S. Embassy, located right there on the Baltic Sea.

Ambassador Barbara Barrett (in this photo) hosted us all to a fascinating reception with a wonderfully eclectic group of Finland’s forest stakeholders. She said it was the largest gathering of forest stakeholders that she’d ever hosted–impressive!

I had the unique opportunity to visit with a young lady from Greenpeace about the impacts of Russian tariffs on Finnish forests, with Finland’s state forester regarding prescribed burning (you should have seen him light up when I talked about the Superior National Forest!), and with a member of the Embassy’s permanent staff about the challenges of continuity through many administrations. The room was buzzing with connections being made!

I’ve never had this kind of exposure before, and it’s good for me. It helps to put the day-in, day-out details into perspective–both within the Forest Service and within Minnesota. The challenge for our study group, of course, will be to pull it all together and to focus all our learning for Minnesota forests.

Jack Rajala, landowner and lumber mill owner in Deer River and Bigfork, visited Russia prior to joining the productivity study tour in Helsinki. Here are are a few of Jack’s field notes, which complement the Minnesota-Ontario-Finland-Sweden draft matrix commissoned by the Foundation as a discussion document for the tour.

  • The terrain, soils and riparian features and forest cover types of western Russia (called Karjala) would make one feel they are in neighboring Finland. Both countries have great natural beauty, but the similarity stops there. The policy of the former Soviet system that required people to leave their country homes and gather into communes seems to have stuck so nobody lives on the old homesteads and there are not the idyllic farms and domiciles that are so perfectly fitted into the Finnish rural landscape.
  • The old sawmills of the Soviet “les prom holz” system have not withstood the years and most are now defunct while the huge paper mills at Sortavala, Pitkaranta, Kondapohja and Segezha seem to have thrived (maybe because they have benefitted from the unique waterway system and railroads that Stalin had build to ready Russia for World War II).
  • The Russian forest in Karjala is an old forest for the most part. Many of the Scots pine stands are 150-plus years old. Spruce and birch, often 100 or more years old and there is a significant amount of stems either standing dead or on the ground. Nearly all forests are state-owned but leased to private parties. These tracts (still referred to as les prom holz) are often 50,000 hectares or more, have lease terms of 50 years and have strict guidelines regulating the volume that must be harvested each year. Most les prom holz are held by consuming mills in Russia and Finland. However, a significant number are held by independent timber dealers as well.
  • Harvesting is mostly contracted out to independent operators who supply the machine and operators. Practically 100% of harvesting is by clear-cutting and regeneration is by natural seeding.
  • Forest plans for harvest, road building and hoped-for regeneration are reviewed by the state on an annual basis. Prices for stumpage seem to be very reasonable, but considering distance to market and very poor roads, maybe not a bargain. Most surprisingly, very modern harvesting systems are now common and most of timber harvest appears to be done by cut-to-length forest machines (Ponsse, etc.).
  • From all appearances, the forests of Karjala appear to be healthy and biologically diverse. The age class of the forests will ultimately get better distributed once the vast overmature forests areregenerated either through harvest or fire.
  • Although much of what is happening in the Russian forests seem strange or different to Westerners, one fact seems certain: the Russian forest resources will be an ever larger factor in world wood supply.

This is the first in a series of “Posts from the Road” from the Seeing the Forest AND the Trees productivity tour to Scandinavia. Today, we hear from Blandin Foundation board chair George Thompson.

As the sun rose Sunday morning over the Amsterdam airport, we’d been traveling for 18 hours and were settling into a four-hour layover before reaching Helsinki, our destination. Our group of 38 includes folks from many different perspectives, which already has made our year-long study together more interesting, and will surely make experiencing Scandinavia–my first trip ever to Europe–fascinating.

My thoughts turned to the committment of all these partners and to the words of Tom Duffus, with the Conservation Fund, who reminded the group, “This isn’t just the Foundation’s project, it’s up to all of us to turn this learning into action.”

Tom’s right! The Foundation’s role here is as catalyst. We have been privileged over the last year to serve as a convener for this important study and conversation of an issue that continues to be unresolved for Minnesota–how to make the most of an important rural asset, our forests. By one measure, the Finns produce twice as much timber from an acre than we do in Minnesota–imagine that for Minnesota. Of course our state is more complex, but clearly the days ahead will be stimulating.


I’m penning this note from Lanesboro, where senior Blandin Foundation staff and Trustees are gathered for a once-in-a-decade extended retreat exploring the theme: “Optimizing our Opportunity: Charting our Path to Rural Philanthropy that Matters.”

Today we met at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, which welcomes about 20,000 students each year to learn about this unique driftless area. Center Director Joe Deden, our gracious host and a forester by background, surprised me with his assertion that just one of the mature walnut trees down here has a market value equal to 3-4 acres of our northern aspen!

His comments were a great set-up for Saturday’s departure for Finland and Sweden for our much anticipated “Seeing the Forest AND the Trees” productivity tour. We’ve planned an ambitious itinerary around our goal of increasing the quality and value of Minnesota’s forests and forest products.

While we’re on the road, we will use this blog space to share our experience in words and pictures. For background information about why we’re going and what we hope to accomplish visit our Productivity Tour web page .

I hope you’ll plan to come along for the (virtual) ride.

Hello All:

What’s that old saying about success being 10% inspiration and 90% persperation?

With hard work and imagination, Julie Miedtke, UofM Forest Educator for Itasca County, has a knack for making success look like 100% inspiration and 100% fun – something she’s been doing for forest education programs long before she partnered with Vital Forests/Vital Communities to help launch Goods from the Woods.

I’m delighted to share the VFVC Blog tribune with Julie to bring you news of some fresh and relevant learning opportunities, timed to piggy-back on the 6th annual GFTW weekend, Sept 20 – 21. See details in Julie’s message, below, and see you at the Splash!

An Autumn Splash
Julie Miedtke University of Minnesota Extension-Itasca County

One lesson I learned many years ago in college is the value of bringing people together to share research, exchange results, information, ideas and ultimately building community. Our communications teacher professed the importance and value of learning, he likened the impacts of a workshop or a conference to throwing a rock into a lake. People attending the conference get the big splash receiving information first hand from presenters. From that initial splash the news and information ripples out into other groups, neighborhoods and communities. Conferences are valuable tool to share information and resources.

On September 19, 2008, the University of Minnesota, in collaboration with Blandin Foundation, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Itasca county Private Woodland Committee will be creating that “big splash” by sponsoring a conference for family forest landowners. It will take place in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The Up North and Living Green Conference offers over 20 classes on a wide variety of topics relevant to forestry and natural resources in the 21st century: Bears to Biomass, Carbon Credits to Climate Change, Taxes to Timber and more.

The goal of the conference is to disseminate resources information that will ultimately help landowners make wise decisions for their lands, and allow them to directly communicate with scientists, researchers and foresters. Landowners will be able to rub elbows with other landowner and learn from their peers. It is the hope and expectation of the conference organizers and sponsors that participants will, through the variety and quality of classes offered, find opportunity to avenues to foster their relationships with nature and enhance their ethic to care for the land.

For more information on the Up North and Living Green Conference can be found on the new website created for family forest landowners: or phone conference coordinator Stephanie Kessler at 218-326-1130.

Life sometimes is such a blur that it is hard to keep up! Can it really be that Goods from the Woods is celebrating its 6th season?! I well remember the bone-cold January morning in 2003 when the Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities initiative first convened a hearty group of visionaries to begin thinking about the possibilities that resulted in the creation of Goods from the Woods: Enhancing Stewardship and Livelihoods. Our goal was to improve the economic viability of nontraditional wood product businesses in our area, increase the utilization of our forest resources through improved forest coordination, and promote sustainable harvesting practices.

Since then, GFTW has become a signature event for our region, annually attracting up to 5,000 visitors to Grand Rapids. Inspired by the passion and commitment of Kathleen Preece, Julie Miedtke, John Zasada, and John Reilly, among others, we initially dubbed the event (somewhat quaintly) “the Art, Beauty, and Careful Harvest of Specialty Forest Products (or in shorthand, the “ABCs of SFPs”). Since that brave start, Goods from the Woods has brought numerous world renowned craftsmen and women from Scandinavia, Canada and elsewhere to our region and helped talented local craftspersons and entrepreneurs connect with and learn from them. Check out the lively and visually stunning overview of some of the event’s highlights during its first five years.

Below, GFTW 2008 Coordinator Jennifer Lein outlines some of this year’s exceptional attractions. Hope to see you there!

This year’s Goods from the Woods Up North Marketplace takes place September 20 from 9am-5pm and September 21 from 9am – 3pm at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids, MN. Now in it’s sixth season, Goods from the Woods Up is a unique show that attracts a variety of world–class artists and crafts people to demonstrate and share their outstanding ideas, designs and crafts. It is Northern Minnesota’s largest Juried Exhibit.

This year’s demonstrations will be rich in color, design and innovation. Demonstrations include: North Folk House, woodcuts and printing, guitar making, Windsor chair making, woodcarving, children’s forest art, interpretive story telling, log home building and music by local artist Sam Miltich.

The Marketplace features a diverse array of products including: Birch bark canoes, carved birds, wood cut lake maps, carved fish, custom log homes, maple and berry syrups, willow baskets, fine turned bowls, pounded flower textiles, Windsor chairs, fireplace mantels, lamps, jewelry, forest inspired clothing, forest inspired books, salves, balms, cribbage boards, custom cabinets, custom furniture, old fashion jiggle sticks, wood carved toys and much, much more! Visit us at

Several community events are taking place the week of Goods from the Woods:
Thursday, September 18 Whimsy Wooden Mechanics Workshop by visiting artists Per Helldorf at the Mac Rostie Art Center from 9-5
For more information visit us at

Friday, September 19 Swedish Wooden Spoon Carving Workshop by visiting artists Per Helldorf at the Mac Rostie Art Center from 9-5
For more information visit us at

Friday, September 19 Up North and Living Green, A Woodland Workshop at Wendigo Lodge from 9-3. For more information visit

Saturday, September 20 Jayme Stone – Music with an up North feel at the Reif Center at 7:30 pm for more information visit

Saturday, September 20 Nature Conservancy where’s the Woods Mill Tour 12-4 visit for more information

Sunday, September 21 12 K Certified Woodtick Run at the Itasca Country Fairgrounds form more information visit