Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

We are just temporary stewards of the forests

Going Nature's Way


November 1, 2018

We are among the fortunate few to own forest land. According to one study, “An estimated 5.5 million acres of woodland 10+ acres in Minnesota are owned by an estimated 114,000 families, individuals, trusts, estates, and woodland partnerships, collectively referred to as woodland ownerships”. It was a chilly April day 32 years ago when I was first shown the land and the damp ground and moist air carried the scent of big old pine trees. I immediately knew Mike would love this place too and so began our sojourn on these 20 acres, 15 of which are a mixed forest of white/Norway/jack pine, red oak, paper birch, balsam fir, aspen and maples.

Over the past three decades Mike has put time and energy into creating trails through the forest that we have used for walking, cross-country skiing, riding horses, and bird watching. A March ice storm in 1991 did major damage to the jack pines and the results are still evident. But even as we used and enjoyed our forest, it was changing – dramatically. A lot of trees can grow up in 32 years and even as we thinned some sections the rest continued to fill in.

This past year, we learned about a program through the DNR Forestry Department that would help us to manage our forest better for wildlife, diversity and fire protection. The foresters came out and walked our trails and listened to our concerns. Five acres have been delineated for significant thinning of all ages and species. This needs to be completed in the next seven months. It is an exciting project, but over the past 30 years it’s not only the forest that has changed. So have our bodies and energy levels. Our son-in-law has been out helping with the chain saw and our grandkids have helped haul the trees and branches out of the woods. It is a daunting task, which could become even more difficult if we have a winter with lots of snow, but we are committed to see it through to completion, one way or another. Our goal is to improve the overall health of our relatively small plot.

Our plan is to add to our woodpile, and possibly sell some of the larger sections of trunks to other people in the county who heat with wood. We will add to our annual Solstice bonfire pile and we will use a chipper to reduce the bulk of the trimmings and smaller trunks.

Before settlers arrived in Minnesota it is estimated there were 31.5 million acres of forest land. When the first forest inventory was taken in the mid-1930s it had dropped to 19.6 million acres. That decline continued until the 1970s, when it started to rebound. One has to wonder whether the arrival of Earth Day and a greater awareness of our environment played a role in the change. At this time Minnesota has been seeing a growth in overall forest land acreage – up by 1.5 million acres between 2003-2017. Some of this increase may be due to improved technological means of seeing and measuring forests.

We fall into the middle of the category of woodland owners in Minnesota, since the average age is 58, and 44% owned by people 65 and older. Based on surveys 86% of woodland owners want and hope that their forest/woodlands will remain so, after they are gone, but most have not pursued any sort of management plan. We should have done so years ago, but as the saying goes – “Better late than never”.

We consider ourselves to be temporary stewards of this land, more so than owners. It is sobering and humbling to realize we won’t be around to see what it will look like in another 30 years, but we are hopeful that whomever occupies this place after we are gone will be as thrilled and appreciative of the forest that exists at that point, as we have been during our tenure.


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