Forest Productivity

Scandinavia2I wrote yesterday about Dovetail Partner Inc.’s new report, The Power of Silviculture, promoting intermediate treatments as silvilculture that provides win-win outcomes for the forests, forest economy, and forest-reliant communities. Monday’s DuluthNews Tribune featured a front page article making the same case through the practices of logger Mike Zauhar, an independent logger practicing in St. Louis County and elsewhere in the region. Zauhar has reengineered his John Deere logging tractor to be lighter on the land, and is using it to experiment with intermediate treatments that increase the forests’ productivity and timber values. As Zauhar told DNT, “We don’t need to go to Europe to learn forestry ideas… We want it so Europeans are coming here to learn.” Way to go, Mike!


ScandinaviaThey are rare in the often rough and tumble world of forest policy and practice, but sometimes it’s possible to point to tools that are especially helpful in delivering multiple public benefits from our forest resources – tools that are true silver bullets.

As described in a Dovetail Partners, Inc. report just out, The Power of Silviculture: Employing Thinning, Partial Cutting Systems and Other Intermediate Treatments to Increase Productivity, Forest Health and Public Support for Forestry, intermediate treatments have the potential to be a silviculturalists’ silver bullet.

Authored by Jim Bowyer and other Dovetail Partners, Inc. staff, the report is one of the products of Vital Forests/Vital Communities 2009 study tour project, Seeing the Forest AND the Trees: How to Make the Most of Minnesota’s Woods. As the report’s title suggests, a key “take away” from the study tours was the ability of intermediate treatments to increase multiple benefits – social, economic, and environmental – forests offer, AND increase public support for forestry. Blandin Foundation commissioned the report to support the work of one of the tour’s follow-on action teams, this one focused on the goal of increasing the use of intermediate treatments in Minnesota across ownerships.

As noted in the report, “There is now a considerable body of knowledge that suggests that wider adoption of intermediate treatments could increase both forest productivity and forest health. The possibility that public interest in and support for forestry might also be enhanced provides a win-win combination that could improve the outlook for profitable production of diversified forest products, including biomass in renewable energy production.”

When I put a copy into the hands of DNR State Forester Dave Epperly, who came by the Foundation today for a meeting with USFS Region Nine Forester Kent Connaughton, he brightened. “We at the DNR have been trying to increase the use of these treatments for several years; this report will help us make the case for why.”

Earlier this week I had the pleasure to meet up with Seeing Forest AND the Trees Productivity travellers who gathered to preview a rough cut of the video documentary being produced for the tour by John Whitehead, of Fretless Films.

John’s talents are well displayed in the Bell Museum’s Minnesota, History of the Land series, and we were excited to see what he had made in film of our study project. These members of the tour’s “building a constituency for productive forests” action team had so much feedback for John that he may not emerge from his editing studio again for several weeks. Seriously, he was a very good sport as we inundated him with our reactions and suggestions. More on John’s film later this summer, when it makes its public debute.

Today I can share with you a new resource presented to the “Building a Constituency” team, developed as a result of the study tours — a report written by our friends at Dovetails, Inc. Building a Constituency of Forest Productivity Advocates: What do we know about Minnesotan’s Natural Resource Priorities? uses polling and public survey research to provide insights into what policy changes and actions people are likely to support, and where opportunities for engagement and creation of a “forestry constituency” may exist. Katie Fernholz summarized the report findings in a .ppt to the committee, which you can view here.

The recommendations are practical and visionary. Getting them done will require, as usual, vision and collaboration, and oh yes, that unique quality we heard so much about in Finland…. sisu.

fvcm conference logoI made it home safely from Cloquet, after we decided to adjourn the Forest Values/Carbon Markets conference a bit early, on account of the weather. Once I heard I-94W had been closed, I thought ‘Safety First’ was a good idea.

On the drive back to Grand Rapids, my colleague Matt Rezac and I listened to the radio report on the heavy snowfall expected in St. Paul through the night. MPR’s Tom Crann was describing a “singularity” that had taken place somewhere in southern Minnesota of the kind Lee Frelich talked about as an example of global climate change: a lightening -laced snowstorm that split a tree and smoke-stained a house. Luckily, no one was injured.

The only conference-related injury that I know about was reported by Bob Krepp. Bob, as Sec/Treasurer of the Great Lakes Forestry Alliance, had graciously agreed to fill in for Stefan Bergmann on the Respondent Panel at the aborted final Speak Up! session. As he left, Bob told me, “I’ve got a head ache. Literally. I came here thinking I knew more than I think I know now.”

Cheryl Miller, Project Coordinator for the MN Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration Initiative introduced herself to me as we were packing up. I’m so glad she did, because though I knew her by reputation, we had never met. Cheryl said she thought that what we all needed next was a 2-3 day regional conference for deep discussion of the whole set of issues around global climate change – policy, science, forest management, economics.

Potential regional partners might include the Midwest Governor’s Association or the GLFA. When I mentioned this idea to Mike Kilgore, he recalled a similar effort involving Canadian colleagues, some 7-8 years ago. The participants of the Seeing the Forest AND the Trees study tour met colleagues in Thunder Bay who might be interested.

A couple of people caught my ear to say they wished the discussion of the role of human activity in global warming had been more objective. They pointed out that the Society of American Foresters’ position statement on global warming omits any reference to human agency, and they didn’t think such a statement would pass muster with the membership.

While I thought Dean Current’s panel with Lee Frelich and Mark Seeley had entertained quite a thorough and thoughtful discussion of the question, these folks’ comments were a good reminder that differences of opinion persist. And as Jim Bowyer emphasized in his question to the panel, how one understands climate change has implications for what we focus on going ahead – reducing emissions or helping our own and other species adapt.

On the science front, my personal favorite new fun-fact-to-know-and-tell from the conference was Lee Frelich’s story about the abundant White Pine seedling “Class of 1992” that sprouted so prolifically in southern Minnesota that cold summer following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

Mark Jacobs, Mike Kilgore and I shook our heads over the apparent forced choice the Manomet Center’s Minnesota North Woods Carbon Partnership case study presents forest managers contemplating participation in carbon off-set markets: manage either for carbon credits or fiber. How can that choice be squared with interest in increasing productivity (understood in quantitative and qualitative terms across a full range of benefits)?

Katie Fernholz told me she doesn’t think it’s productive to focus on whether or not we like cap-and-trade or off-set markets. “They’re coming,” she said. Rather, she thinks it makes more sense to focus on how to ensure these markets are structured and used in ways that maximize their effectiveness and benefits to our forests and forest-dependent communities. To that end, she felt good about giving this forestry audience a chance to hear from Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson and Bruce Miller about how our farming brothers and sisters are already participating in carbon markets.

I mused aloud about how the financial and housing markets’ collapse makes the complexity of carbon offset markets feel problematic. Dealing with “additionality” and “leakage” looked particularly daunting – and potentially politically toxic. Mustn’t there be a simpler, better way? Minnesota Environmental Partnership Executive Steve Morse who overheard, said he thought carbon taxes might be preferable. Or, as one conference attendee wrote on their Speak Up card, “How about emphasizing reducing consumption of our natural resources as an option to reduce carbon emissions?”

Celebrating the success of the new 2c Managed Forest Land tax program took center stage at lunch

Celebrating the success of the new 2c Managed Forest Land tax program took center stage at lunch

Over the next few days our conference team will be working hard to organize some dialogue-cum-ask-the-experts-online interaction to take the discussion we began in Cloquet online. That will give all of us a chance to think together about the many good questions captured on your Speak Up! cards.

Our team also will gather and post all of the power points and many photos and even video footage captured of the field tours, the kick-off banquet presentations, and conference evaluation reports. Maybe even Eli Sagor’s Twitter “tweets.” After our online reflection discussion we’ll complete a conference summary report to share.

Thanks to all of you who came to Cloquet to talk about climate change, and drove home in a snowstorm. Like Bob Krepp, my head hurts – but in a good way. Charting the best path ahead is a challenge worthy of what we can all do together.

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

school-busSenator Tom Saxhaug has wasted no time in getting to work on one of the high impact opportunities identified by participants in the VFVC’s “Seeing the Forest AND the Trees: Making the Most of Minnesota Forests” study tour project.

On October 29, Tom convened a joint hearing of a subcommittee of the Senate’s Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Committee and the E-12 Education Budget Committee to bring the issues of rationalizing ownership and increasing management of Minnesota’s School Trust Fund Lands to the attention of his state legislator colleagues with authority over these lands.

Tour participants Dave Zumeta and Dave Schad and DNR State Forester Dave Epperly laid the ground for modifying management of School Trust Fund and other state lands to improve forest productivity as well as wildlife habitat and to produce more revenue both for schools and for sustainable forest management. Zumeta and Schad began to build the economic and environmental case for the recommendation they and others from the study tour’s School Trust Fund Lands Action Team have developed based on learning and insights gained through study of Canadian, Finnish, and Swedish best practices.

Setting the context for the “Dave, Dave, and Dave presentations” was a presentation by Howard Bicker, Executive Director of the State Board of Investments, on investments and return on investments of the School Trust Fund. Bicker spoke of the Board’s statutory charge to increase spendable income from these trust lands to help offset state expenditures for school aid. Legislators were particularly interested in how and where the funds had been invested, projections for how they might grow and how to calculate risk in a volatile financial environment.

Dave Epperly reported on timber sales revenue from sustainable forest management of Trust lands and how Trust lands contribute to the state’s ecological health, our forest-based economy, and our citizens’ quality of life. Dave Schad described use of site-level forest management guidelines and interdisciplinary landscape planning as essential to achieving forest productivity, wildlife habitat and recreational goals, as well as to long-term economic returns from Trust lands and other lands.

Dave Zumeta proposed increased woody biomass harvests in conjunction with increased timber sales on Trust Fund and other state lands to help meet State Forest Resource Management Plan goals. Harvest sites would include areas within the timber procurement zones of forest industries and the biofuel procurement zones of other forest industries and utilities that use woody biomass for energy, those areas with high risk of wildfire due to high fuel loads, and areas where biomass harvest would help meet wildlife and ecological restoration goals. He clarified that biomass harvesting should not be conducted on lands where such harvesting would have adverse effects on water quality, soils, wildlife habitat, or biological diversity. Following harvest, early and frequent forest thinnings should be used in stands where thinnings would help meet SFRMP management goals and maintain healthy forests. Benefits from these thinnings would include increased wood products, renewable energy,and income to the Trust.

Zumeta told the legislators that increased timber harvest on these lands would help meet the Governor’s Primary Forest Products Industry Task Force goal for increased timber harvest. Harvesting forest biomass on these lands would also help meet the legislature’s “25 by 25” (25 percent by 2025) renewable energy mandate, provide renewable energy for forest industries and utilities, reduce carbon emissions, help reduce wildfire losses, and lower the cost of state and federal wildfire suppression efforts. Zumeta said that by increasing timber harvest (including the use of intermediate harvests) and woody biomass harvest on these lands, near-term and long-term income — including income to the Trust — would be increased, all while improving forest health.

The overall positive response of the legislators and the tone of their questions (about sources of potential opposition, level of demand for woody biomass and positive effects on fire suppression) suggest that the subject has gotten the interest of the legislators positioned to make decisions on the future management of the state’s forest resources.

Seeing the Forest AND the Trees Study Tour participants spent most of the trip’s final day in a group process “huddle”, sorting through the new ideas, impressions and information we were exposed to during the tour’s seven hectic days. Before we got on the plane to return home, we wanted to identify the key elements of a shared post-tour action plan that addressed our overall study tour goals of 1) increasing the quality and value of Minnesota forests and forest products, 2) optimizing the balance of forest benefits, and 3) developing a shared vision for forest management in Minnesota including increased productivity.

Each of the group’s six “Learning Track Teams” had developed a set of recommendations for possible inclusion in the plan – fourteen suggestions in all. For example, the Public Engagement Learning Track suggested a proposal to develop a demonstration project (community scale) for engaging private land owners. The Public Policy Learning Track presented, among others, a proposal to rationalize ownership of and intensify management of school and university trust lands. The Environmental Review and Permitting Learning Track brought forth an idea to develop a general permit for district heating facilities at the community scale, in order to remove procedural barriers to these systems in Minnesota.

Blandin Foundation Program Officer Matt Rezac lead tour participants through a “dot voting” exercise to sort through all of the ideas surfaced by the Learning Track Teams. While all of the ideas had merit, and many of them are likely to find legs in the work and support of individual tour participants or ad hoc groups of participants, our goal was to agree upon a manageable “short list” of shared projects we could agree to support together. Matt asked participants to cast their votes through the filter of two key criteria: 1) was the idea something the group as a whole was uniquely positioned to accomplish, could not be done by any individual institution or organization; and 2) was the idea something the voter was personally willing to advance.

In addition to these criteria, the Systems Change Learning Track invited participants to bear in mind a number of “filters” they developed to help evaluate proposed actions. They included:

  • Does not require the development of new knowledge
  • Can be accomplished within five years
  • No significant public opposition anticipated
  • No “solo champions”
  • Anticipation of measurable change
  • No localized actions unless part of a larger strategy
  • Integration of sustainability principles within the idea
  • Synergy with other adopted action steps
  • Builds upon assets (versus solving problems)
  • Doesn’t require significant public investment dollars

Two rounds of “dot voting” and plenty of lively discussion about the process and criteria landed the group on five key recommendations. Presented below in DRAFT form, they are still very raw and subject to change and/or consolidation. Study tour participants are reorganizinig into Action Teams around each of the ideas.

      1. Develop a forest bioenergy strategy for Minnesota
      2. Increase the use of intermediate harvest activity across all land ownerships to advance forest productivity, whether for timber, wildlife, recreation, biodiversity, and/or biomass
      3. Build a state-wide and regional constituency for investment in productive forests
      4. Increase the engagement of family forest land owners in sustainable and productive forest management

Foundation staff will be working with the teams over the coming weeks to translate the ideas into specific action plans. We are also working to produce a number of specific products, including a final report, video, and other communication and learning tools to help us all share our experience with others.

Stay tuned!

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