Productivity Tour

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.


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!

Our delegation of Seeing Forest AND the Trees study tour has now returned home safely from our eight-day whirlwind tour of forestry practices in Finland and Sweden. This post gives a snap shot of some of the highlights from our final day of counterpart meetings in Stockholm.

Friday morning we were hosted at the American Embassy by Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Silverman who introduced us to Ambassador Michael Wood’s “One Big Thing” project . Launched in September 2006, the project aims to promote cooperation between the United States and Sweden to accomplish a breakthrough in alternative energy technology. Our goal was to learn more about possible opportunities for Minnesota’s forest products industry to benefit from the project’s focus on promoting public/private sector R&D and collaboration in this field. The U.S. Embassy staff welcomed our visit as an example of the kind of exchange of people, ideas and information they hope their “One Big Thing” project will help promote.

Even the briefest introduction to Sweden’s economy makes it pretty plain why Ambassador Wood decided the United States has plenty to gain from Swedish bioenergy know-how. In 2005 the government of Sweden announced its intention to make Sweden the first country to break its dependence on petroleum, natural gas and other “fossil raw materials” by 2020, without building more nuclear power plants. According to the Swedish Energy Agency, today Sweden’s use of renewable energy sources has risen to 43 per cent, up from 30 percent in 1990.

To achieve this progress, Sweden uses a combination of policy tools and market-based incentives. The national government sponsors innovative programs to promote the use of alternate fuels for everything from home heating to transportation. Many neighborhoods in Sweden use a central furnace that consumes biological fuels, instead of oil, to provide hot water for all of the nearby homes. (Earlier on the tour our delegation got a first-hand look at just such a member-owned “district heating facility” in a small community near Joensuu, Finland).

Serendipitously, the same day our delegation was meeting with counterparts in Stockholm, back home in Grand Rapids folks from the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) were teaming up with Minnesota’s BioBusiness Alliance to host over a dozen Swedish entrepreneurs and business representatives visiting our region as part of the BBA’s International BioEnergy Conference held in Mankato at the end of September. While we were learning about Swedish breakthroughs in alternative energy production and policy, the Swedish delegation in Grand Rapids was getting an eyeful of facilities in Itasca County, including the Rapids Energy Center, the recently closed Ainsworth Plant, and the Rajala Mill in Deer River. While we feasted on Swedish buns and coffee at the Embassy, the Swedes in Grand Rapids enjoyed a goulash breakfast in the “cook shack” at the Forest History Center.

During our meeting at the US embassy a climate specialist from the Swedish Forest Agency gave us an overview of the forest bioenergy sector in Sweden, and the Director of the Federation of Swedish Forest Owners described her members’ interest in opportunities presented by the bioeconomy to use forest resources as a source of new income for family forest land owners.

However, our delegation seemed most interested in the presentation by Jonas Rudberg, CEO of Chemrec, a Swedish company helping pulp and paper mills transform into biorefineries using a unique, proprietary black liquor gasification technology. Rudberg described a newly announced partnership between Chemrec and Ohio-based NewPage Corporation to explore the possible introduction of new technology at the NewPage paper mill in Escanaba, Michigan. The proposed new facility would employ Chemrec’s black liquor gasification technology to convert waste from the paper pulping process into synthesis gas. The synthesis gas can then be processed into a variety of biofuels. Chemrec estimates that this technology could enable the Escanaba mill to produce up to 13 million gallons of liquid biofuels per year. This new plant is a corner stone of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s efforts to position her state at the forefront of renewable next-generation fuels. Rudberg said that Chemrec officials had visited the Boise facility in International Falls during the company’s initial search for a North American facilities site, but ultimately negotiations had been unsuccessful, due to insufficient public-private financing options.

Afterwards, conversation on the tour bus suggested that the Minnesota delegation was struck by the need for Minnesota to develop a state-wide forest bioenergy strategy. But more on that in our next post.

Productivity Tour participants Bud Stone, Jim Hoolihan, Abel Ponce de Leon, Stefan Bergmann and Jim Bowyer at the Metla Institute, Joensuu, Finland

Productivity Tour participants Bud Stone, Jim Hoolihan, Abel Ponce de Leon, Stefan Bergmann and Jim Bowyer at the Metla Institute, Joensuu, Finland

Productivity Tour staffer Allison Rajala sends along this post after one very long and content-rich day that started in Finland and ended in Sweden.

We were warned from Day One that Thursday would be intense — and it was!

It began at dawn with a traditional Finnish breakfast of bread, cheese, porridge and coffee at the Mekrijarvi Research Station. Just like the University of Joensuu students and researchers stationed there, the night before we enjoyed a late night of traditional “smoke” saunas, very cold swims and swapping stories in the dorms, reminiscent of younger days.

Despite a drizzly day, typical for October in Finland, UPM’s Finnish foresters generously escorted our hardy band through the deep woods of eastern Finland. Among our stops, we observed new technology developed by UPM field staff to clear brush around four-year-old planted spruce, how they thin to improve genetics and maximize value, and how they are researching the emerging practice of harvesting stumps–quite different from Minnesota and generating quite a buzz.

Policy researcher and sociologist for the Finnish Environment Institute, Dr. Taru Peltola, helped us to experience forest community life. She introduced us to the staff of a local district heating facility–typical for rural Finland. These small, distributed heating facilities convert woody debris and roundwood to energy and symbolize the value of thriving forests to the rural landscape. Biomass energy is alive and well in Karjelia.

Metla Institute in Joensuu was quite a place. Their top researchers shared breaking news surrounding global warming, the effects of Russian tariffs, wood technology and much more. One of the finest forest research institutions in the world, Metla also is home to one of the world’s most beautiful examples of architecture utilizing local wood resources.

Two bus rides and two airplane rides later, we arrived safely at midnight in Stockholm’s historic old town for some much needed sleep after an 18-hour day. Wow!

Thanks to UPM Blandin Paper Co’s Jim Marshall for sharing his musings from the Seeing the Forest AND the Tress Productivity Tour with VFVC Blog readers.

As we flew over Finland’s famous Lake Saimaa on the way north from Helsinki, I knew our group was enjoying the spectacular view of water, autumn colors and the generous mix of forests and small farms below. I reflected on all the things our group had already accomplished in meetings with counterparts from the Finnish forestry sector, at the US Embassy in Helsinki, and in small informal discussions amongst ourselves.

As the bus pulled away from the Joensuu airport, remarkably, we saw commercial thinning going on right out the bus windows. I began to get excited all over again, knowing that soon we would be out into the forest together, learning from local University experts about social and ecological aspects of the Finnish Forest “cluster” as well as hearing from my UPM colleague Matti Ylanne about the company’s methods for improving biodiversity on its forest harvest sites.

Tomorrow we will be stopping to view mechanized cleaning, manual pre-commercial thinning, energy wood harvesting, and commercial thinning—an ambitious program for the morning drive on our way back to Joensuu. It is important for us to see and understand what is possible using intensive forestry methods. Here in Finland, we learned today, the history and culture drive landowners toward intensive silviculture (see Bernadine’s post below). The results are that a lot of timber is grown and harvested, fueling one of the worlds’ most impressive forest based economies. I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow travelers see and think tomorrow.

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