Forest Management

Forest ImageAs a child growing up in the Minneapolis suburbs, I learned about the North Woods from my father. Born into a poor family in a small Nebraska town, my Dad’s ticket to the big world came from the Navy ROTC. When the Korean War ended he came to Minnesota to enroll in graduate school. A child of the prairie, my father’s first experience with Minnesota’s north country came when a University buddy invited him on a canoe trip. They drove up to Ely, down the Fernberg Trail to Lake One and on into Lake Insula. The experience changed him forever. Soon he had bought us a canoe and trips to the BWCA became a beloved family ritual. Around the campfire at night my Dad would read to us aloud from Sigurd Olson’s Singing Wilderness and Listening Point.

Some years later he and my Mom bought 80 acres of woods and a modest “deer shack” in Cass County. Long a devoted birder and fisherman, my Dad now also became a tree lover. He got a forest management plan for his land. Every winter he’d order seedlings. We’d plant them in the spring and bud cap them in the fall to protect them from the deer. Now his second growth forest of balsam and poplar is intermixed with young pine stands, the kind of trees that grew there before the “Big Cut.” My Dad will turn 80 this year, but he’s still planting trees. It’s his gift to the future.

The good news for Minnesotans and especially for future Minnesotans is that there are a lot of people like my Dad taking care of their woods. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Stewardship Program has written management plans for over 10,000 family forest landowners, affecting 1.5 million acres. The Program is now in the process of updating its five-year plan, due to be unveiled in July. The plan provides technical advice and long range planning guidance to forestland owners, including new information about emerging opportunities for family forest stewardship in the state. It endorses a goal set by Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities Initiative to bring an additional million acres of family forest lands under stewardship by 2015. The plan revision process is being facilitated by Dovetail Partners with support from Blandin Foundation.

There will be opportunities for stakeholder review before the plan is finalized. Those with questions about the project can contact Andrew Arends, Cooperative Forest Management supervisor for the DNR Division of Forestry at 651/259-5261.


Greg Nolan of Snowy Pines Reforestation near Browerville, MN responded to my pre-Forest Values/Carbon Markets blog post with some innovative ideas of his own.

Translating it into my own words, Greg is suggesting a hands-on training program for noncollege-bound rural youth that could be the “boots-on-the-ground” talent needed for more best-practice silviculture on more acres, including especially family forests.

This vision strikes me as pretty aligned with one of the recommendations from our Nordic Tour: to increase the use of intermediate treatments in Minnesota. What I find so appealing about Greg’s idea is that it would not only increase the use of intermediate treatments (read his post for a great description of all of the silvicultural good he’s doing with a simple chain saw and brush cutter), but catalyze local entrepreneurship and engage rural youth “left behind” by traditional college and university programs.

His talk of intermediate treatments as “weeding” reminded me of the “forest weeding” machine that our Nordic Tour participants saw demonstrated in Finland.

We also saw a guy in the woods with a chain saw, employed by UPM to do the very sort of management Greg is calling for in his proposal I asked Cheryl Adams about this, and she reported that the Blandin Mill does some of the same kind of work on their land here in Itasca County at a rate of 2-3 acres/day/person for releasing very young trees (“cleaning”) and 1-2 acres/day/person for pre-commercial thinning.

What do others think about Greg’s idea and the viability of creating a market among family forest land owners for this approach to timber stand improvement/intermediate treatments?

While touring Finland on the Seenig the Forest AND the Trees productivity tour, UPM’s Jim Marshall posted “Marshall’s Musings” to the VFVC Blog. Peter Bundy read the post and asked Jim, “What exactly is “Finnish forest cluster” and what silvicultural practices did you observe that we should be implementing here in MN? ”

Jim has penned responses to Peter’s good questions. Here they are:

1. What exactly is Finnish forest cluster?

Looking at the Finnish Forest Industries Federation website, I found this definition, which is good. One can also look at the link to see more.

The Finnish definition of forest cluster is broad covering all the important actors networking with each other, and this is where its strength lies. The forest, chemical and technology industries as well as the media and packaging sectors together with forest-owners

2. What silvicultural practices did you observe that we should be implementing here in MN?

a) I would love to see us do more pre-commercial thinning (spacing) and cleaning in our young forests (both mixed species and pure balsam fir, jack pine). Resulting acceleration of growth to merchantable size is amazing, versus doing nothing. The opportunity is large; conceivably 50,000+ acres every year, if we consider the mixed-wood aspen/hardwood/conifer stands that arise following typical Minnesota harvests.

b) More commercial thinning–this covers a broad array from high-value hardwood management (oak system is different from maple/basswood) to spruce and pine plantations, to aspen and other mixed species. The concept is to capture the mortality and invigorate the remaining trees for more healthy growth. INTERMEDIATE TREATMENTS is one of the five focus areas that emerged from the Blandin Foundation VFVC group learning trips. This team wants to develop a white paper on the benefits of release, pre-commercial thinning, and commercial thinning that would address not only timber benefits but other benefits such as wildlife, I & D, and biodiversity. They also recommend continuing the Ecosystem Management Course, and they propose future research on the ecological and economic issues associated with intermediate treatments.

c) Finally, I would suggest, we need to adopt the most sophisticated modeling possible, depending on landowner capacity to use these tools, as a defensible means of harvesting more of our forests when they become mature, vs. waiting till they are way past biological and economic maturity. Time after time, when we evaluate public and private timber for possible purchase of stumpage, we have to reject parcels based on the very poor wood quality (primarily aspen and balsam fir rot). When walking through blow-down balsam, I often think, “this should have been sold 10 or 15 years
ago!” With proper modeling, fewer of these stands would slip through the cracks in large land owning organizations.

As an illustration of the problem in (2c), please see these photographs of an 80+ year old aspen/birch/balsam/spruce stand in Itasca County.


Thanks for the questions, Peter!

Jim Marshall

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.

Thanks to U or M Department of Forest Resources Professor Mike Kilgore for submitting this post to the VFVC Blog.

Mike KilgoreEarlier this month, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) was presented with a draft plan for managing and protecting the state’s natural resources. This plan, termed the Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan (SCPP), was developed over an 18 month period by more than 125 experts, including University of Minnesota scientists and public and private natural resource planners and professionals. The SCPP presents a comprehensive strategy for improving and protecting the state’s air, water, land, wildlife, fish, and outdoor recreation resources.

One of the major threats identified in the report that has been a priority focus of the Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forest/Vital Communities Public Policy Initiative is the fragmentation, degradation, loss, and conversion of forest land cover. The SCPP recommends a strategic area of focus should be protecting large blocks of forest land and priority land habitats through easement or acquisition.

A Star Tribune article on the draft plan can be found at:

The entire plan can be downloaded at:

I spent most of last week in Madison attending the Great Lakes Forest Alliance’s conference, Crisis or Opportunity: Sustaining and Strengthening Forest-Based Industries in the Great Lakes Region. A full account of the three-day event, with links to presentations, will soon be posted on the GLFA website. Below I’ve penned a summary of my take on some of the conference highlights. I encourage others of you who attended to use the comment function to share your impressions as well.

In his opening remarks, GLFA chair and Michigan State University professor Daniel Keathley explained that GLFA’s goal in convening the conference was to initiate actions to help address the escalating loss of the forest products industry from the Great Lakes region. Loss of the industry from our region will destroy our capacity to sustainably manage our forests, he said. Peter Ince of the USFS Forest Products Lab underscored the challenge facing the industry, noting that 40% of all U.S. pulp, paper and board mill jobs have been eliminated since 1997. Industry-related job losses in Ontario have been even more dramatic.

Patrick Moore, chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies, Ltd., forcefully delivered his message that “trees are the answer” to many of society’s challenges, including: what materials to build with, how to pull more carbon out of the atmosphere, how protect habitat, clean air, make healthy soils and keep our planet green and beautiful.

Dr. Moore recounted his role in founding Greenpeace and crafting and advancing Greenpeace’s original message of insisting that the environment be taken into account in all decisions we make. Moore asserted that a focus on “sustainability” is the next logical step after environmental activism, and expressed his dismay at what he termed the “greatest myth of today’s environmental movement,” namely that “the forest industry is responsible for the destruction of forests and the species that depend on forest habitats.” (While acknowledging the persistence of some extremist “us-versus-them” views among some environmental organizations, other speakers disputed that this remains a prevailing view among environmentalists today, pointing instead to a growing track record of creative industry-environmental partnerships to address our common challenges). Moore asserted that growing more trees and using more wood is one of society’s most potent tools for addressing global climate change.

Many others agreed: Documenting and articulating the significant role that forests and forest management can play in mitigating the threat of global climate change emerged as a key theme of the conference. Telling the forest-and-forest-products-as-carbon-sink story was highlighted as one of the most promising opportunities for strengthening the region’s forest products industry.

In particular, presentations by Jiaxin Chen from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and by Sara Hines, of the USDA’s Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry and Northern Research Station on the contributions of managed forests to climate change mitigation described the potential for private landowners to engage in emerging carbon markets and greenhouse gas registries. Dr. Chen showed that forests store 80% of Earth’s above-ground terrestrial carbon and 40% of below-ground terrestrial carbon.

To increase the effectiveness of forests as a tool in mitigating global climate change, Dr. Chen offered the following solutions: 1) reduce deforestation; 2) use forest management to enhance sequestration in forests; 3) avoid emissions by promoting the use of wood as a substitute for fossil fuel; and 4) promote the substitution of wood products for petroleum-based products.

Dovetail Partners Director and Vital Forest/Vital Communities Advisory Board member Jim Bowyer discussed how growing markets for green building materials, sustainable design practices and associated certification systems represent important new opportunities for the region’s forest products industry. Documenting the history and proliferation of green building standards and third party forest certification regimes, and noting that the Great Lakes Region is a leader in forest certification, Jim called on the region’s forest products sector to become more proactive in embracing these new market opportunities.

In his keynote presentation Conservation Fund president and CEO Larry Selzer called for an “investment-based” approach to forestry that recognizes and embraces healthy ecosystems (“green infrastructure”) as not just a “nice-to-have” amenity but as critical to the very survival of our species and life itself on the planet.

“Asphalt is the last rotation,” he said. Larry pointed in particular to the need to ensure that the next generation is prepared to be good stewards of the environment that we are working hard to protect. Noting that many children today have few opportunities to connect with the natural world, and that this problem will continue to intensify as our populations become ever more urban, he said that nature has become “like a foreign country” for many young people.

He challenged the audience to address the challenge of reconnecting children to nature, not only by bringing kids to nature, but by bringing nature to kids, including through the creative use of technology, which has become a “security blanket” that the young use as a mediator for exploring and understanding the world.

Establishing and maintaining a relationship with the natural world is good preventive medicine against many of society’s ills, he maintained. Having defined nature as wilderness, we now need to redefine it as something accessible and nearby. We need to find ways to help kids connect to nature in city parks, in vacant lots, in their own backyards. He cited research showing that among children who play on paved playgrounds, those who emerge as leaders are the most physically mature. When children play on green playgrounds, it’s the most creative children who emerge as leaders.

Menominee Tribal Enterprises (LINK) President Adrina Miller described how his enterprise uses “humility and common sense” to implement an approach to forestry that is economically viable, environmentally feasible and socially desirable. He told the story of Chief Oshkosh who introduced the concept of managing forests for the “seventh generation” to ensure continuous improvement in the quality of the forest while meeting the current needs of the tribe.

The premiere showing of the new video, Forest Floor to Showroom Floor: Marketing “Green Forestry” in Minnesota, created for VF/VC by Fretless Films writer/director John Whitehead was well received. This 13-minute video documents Aitkin County’s recent FSC audit and describes the positive impact certification has had on Aitkin’s forest management and local economy. Please contact us if you’d like us to send you your own copy.

During her presentation of the results of the nation’s first in-depth research focused on the next generation of family forestland owners and what they think, Catherine Mater, President of Mater Engineering, Ltd and Senior Fellow at the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, gave an account of one such new partnership she’s exploring – with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Huh? Here’s why: Mater noted that her research has uncovered an unexpected direct public policy link between human health and forest health. Namely, that the single most cited reason family forest land owners give for selling their land is to pay for health care costs. (Note: for a full discussion of these results see the VF/VC Family Forest Conference proceedings from Fall 2007).

Closing speaker Bill Ginn, Director of Conservation Markets and Finance for The Nature Conservancy, left participants with a message of hope. Ginn is an advocate of bringing new innovative business and finance models to conservation. This is a classic case of “Nature without prices is like an all you can eat smorgasboard,” he said. “Everyone overeats.” While underscoring the urgency of addressing the accelerating loss of forest land in the U.S. and around the globe, Ginn said there are plenty of reasons to remain hopeful:

  • Unprecedented new coalitions of forestry professionals and environmentalists
  • New market opportunities in bio fuels and ecosystem services (assuming we “get this right” and avoid unintended consequences like we’ve seen in the corn ethanol industry)
  • Third party certification as a tool for building carbon markets and increasing public confidence in wood as an environmentally sustainable resource

Ginn called on the audience to join hands with environmentalists and other new partners to take advantage of these opportunities and find new solutions.

The conference ended with a brain-storming session seeking participant input on what specific strategies the GLFA should pursue to promote industry competitiveness in the region. Vital Forests/Vital Communities will be tracking these results closely. We are eager to follow up on opportunities to partner with others across the Great Lakes to help strengthen our region’s forest products industry and bring the “Trees are the Answer” message to a broader public.

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.

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