Late on June 3 the DNR issued this press release announcing that the agency and Blandin Paper Company (UPM) have signed a binding agreement from the purchase of a working forest conservation easement on the 188,000 acre Upper Mississippi Forest Project. Here’s a link to coverage of the deal in today’s Star Tribune.

Congratulations again to all who helped make this historic deal possible, and to all Minnesotans who will benefit forever from this work. As Mike Kilgore is quoted as saying in the Star Tribune article, “This easement is a great buy for the citizens of Minnesota.”

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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.”

Senator Tom Saxhaug shared some poignant reflections on the new Upper Mississippi Forest Project conservation easement at Friday’s Forestry Affairs Committee meeting of the Grand Rapids Area’s Chamber of Commerce. As the bill’s author in the Senate, Tom has intimate knowledge of the behind-the-scenes efforts required to pass the legislation. His leadership was central to the project’s success in the session’s final days and hours.

In recounting the political “sausage making” that got the bill successfully into — and out of — conference committee in a version that met all parties’ needs, the Senator singled out the deft work of Mike Kilgore in his role as chair of the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council and Bob Schroeder, from the Governor’s staff. He also took pains to recognize the yeoman efforts of Representative Mary Murphy, who flexed muscles to “herd cats” on the House side to get a “clean” version of the bill put forward. He noted the important role played by Art Norton of the Nature Conservancy, Tom Duffus of The Conservation Fund, Craig Engwall at the DNR, and the Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities Initiative. But the Senator saved his greatest praise for (UPM) Blandin Paper Company itself – “it’ll always be the Blandin Mill to me,” he said affectionately.

Tom recounted his memory of how, when UPM-Kymenne’s Finns “came to town” twelve years ago, “they took one look at our forests and pronounced them a mess.” “They told us we can do better, and they have led the way,” he said.

Today, said Saxhaug, many of the environmentally-minded Twin Cities legislators who once thought the forest sector was led by “jack pine savages” have had their minds changed, thanks to Cheryl Adams’ tours of UPM’s forestlands. Now those forests will forever benefit from the state-of-the-art best practices introduced by UPM. UPM’s Jim Marshall added that from the company’s perspective, preserving jobs was also a significant and lasting benefit for the community.

Afterwards, Tom shared that a number of his legislative colleagues had told him they thought it likely that the Upper Mississippi Forest Project would end up being one of the most significant achievements of the Legacy Fund’s entire 25 year run. Then he folded up his papers and hurried off to his next meeting. For Tom, there’s never a shortage of good work to do.

Last Friday Governor Pawlenty gave Minnesotans something extra special to celebrate by signing into law a bill authorizing $36 million to purchase a conservation easement for the Upper Mississippi Forest Project. Together with the $7 million from Blandin Foundation and $2 million from the Mellon Foundation, the project is now fully funded, permanently protecting over 187,000 acres of working forest land from parcelization and ensuring public access forever.

I’ve attached a map of the project area below, and here’s a link to how the story played in the Grand Rapids Herald Review (the UMF coverage starts with “Some Bright Spots”).

Local lawmakers are hailing the bill as a great achievement for Minnesota. Representative Tom Anzelc said the project “preserves and protects a whole culture and way of life for northern Minnesotans,” and Senator Tom Saxhaug notes that it preserves jobs related to timber harvesting.

This enthusiasm is shared by others across the state. Executive Director of Conservation Minnesota, Paul Austin, who lobbied hard for the amendment, was quoted in Minnpost last Wednesday as calling the project a “great marquee item to have happen right out of the box and hopefully it will be followed by 24 years of similar projects,” and legislative watchers have quoted LOHC members as referring to it as their “signature project.”

A great beginning for a new era of conservation for our state!

UMF Map

For those of you who may have missed it, here is a link to MPR’s story this morning reporting the Legislature’s overwhelming support of a bill that fully funds the Upper Mississippi Forest Project:

House, Senate approve outdoors and arts program by Tim Nelson

The $36 million of dedicated sales tax dollars will be matched by $9 million in private funds, including $7 million from the Blandin Foundation. If Governor Pawlenty signs this bill into law, it will be the largest deal of its kind in the state’s history, putting into permanent conservation easement over 188,000 acres of working forest lands, protecting public benefits –like recreational access, habitat and water quality – forever.

Getting the project this far is the result of a major collaborative effort involving many organizations and individuals – including some key partners in the Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities Initiatives. In particular, I would like to recognize the leadership and hard work of legislators Tom Saxhaug and Loren Solberg, Tom Duffus of The Conservation Fund, and the DNR’s Craig Engwall.

From the Foundation’s perspective, conserving the area’s forest resources is one of our most significant investments in the last five years. Let’s hope we can soon celebrate this historic achievement.

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.

I’m happy to pass along Dovetail Partners’ new report, “Community-Based Bioenergy and District Heating: Benefits, Challenges, Opportunities and Recommendations for Woody Biomass”.

This report specifically focuses on the thermal uses for wood as it applies to (1) district (community) heating and (2) combined heat and power (electricity) applications (cogeneration or Combined Heat and Power, CHP). District heating and CHP have enormous potential in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota. The opportunities and challenges of expanding district heating projects in the region are explored in this report. Lessons learned from around the U.S. and from other parts of the world are presented, as well as recommendations for further domestic development.