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

By Kim Samuelson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Cloquet conservationist made strides in urban forestry and pollinator habitats


January 10, 2019

Provided Photo

The Conservation Corps of Minnesota crew with pine logs they cut, limbed and forwarded.

In this second article about the 2018 Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) conservation awards, we introduce you to Bob Nelson of Cloquet, who was given the title of 2018 Urban Forestry Conservationist. Nelson is another winner who has taken what he has learned and has shared his experience and knowledge with others in educational settings.

Nelson has worked with urban forestry since 1968 when his family planted Red Pines on 1/3 acre of their Cloquet property. Years later, Nelson bought the property from his parents and decided to continue maintenance of the urban forest as well as planting and maintaining pollinator habitat. He has done much of this in honor of his father, Walter Nelson, who "loved nature and would have loved what I've been doing."

Through the years of maintenance and projects, however, Nelson knew he needed help so he called on professionals at the Carlton SWCD as well as the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the University of Minnesota Cloquet Forestry Center. According to Nelson, "I knew what I wanted to achieve, but I needed expert advice."

Kelly Smith, Forestry Conservationist with the Carlton SWCD, helped to find assistance with planning, funding, and implementing the projects Nelson wanted to tackle.

First came the forestry practice plan written by Smith in 2013 to thin the tall, spindly Red Pines that were planted in 1968. Those trees were overcrowded, stressed and dying. Red Pines like sunlight, but because they were planted too close together and were the same height, the trees did not have enough live branches. The trees were very susceptible to possible 'blow downs" from wind or ice storms or massive domino falling situations from insect or disease felling trees. In addition, there was little wildlife habitat as a result of little or no undergrowth cover or food due to inadequate light.

Smith worked with Nelson to mark the trees that would be harvested with the plan of leaving two thirds of the trees, the better and healthier ones. The Conservation Corps of Minnesota (CCM) was contracted to do the labor, and the trees were cut down and limbed. Nelson arranged to borrow a log arch from the Cloquet Forestry Center to move the logs to the front of the property where they were picked up by a logger Nelson contacted. Nelson then hauled 52 pickup loads of tree limbs and tops to the city trash pile.

The project opened up the forest floor and increased the amount of sunlight for grass, plant and shrub growth as well as for young and older established trees. As a result, wildlife habitat increased, fire hazard was reduced, and tree health and timber production improved.

Another project involved maintenance on an acre of young White Pine trees which needed thinning and pruning. Smith contacted CCM who harvested some of the trees as well as pruned the lower one-third of the remaining tree branches. The pruning helped to reduce the chances of blister rust disease and to encourage undergrowth of native plants and young trees.

In addition to the urban forest projects, Nelson has been working on other urban landscape projects. He has been steadily working to kill and control Buckthorn plants which were originally, and unfortunately, planted by his father before the plants were recognized as invasive species with very detrimental negative effects on native plants. Nelson has also worked for several years on creating and expanding pollinator habitat with native plant gardens. He has made great strides in attracting pollinators like the monarch butterfly.

According to Smith, Nelson has "shared his experiences in getting help and advice" and has been a wonderful resource in helping to educate urban landowners about urban forestry and pollinator habitat issues. He has hosted several tours on his property to show small scale Red Pine management, especially in the "common situation of small pine stands that are too big for an arborist, yet too small for a logger." Nelson has also been valuable in sharing the ideas and work involved in creating pollinator habitat. "Bob has been sharing experiences to help others be successful," Smith added.

Bob Nelson's willingness to learn and to share makes him very deserving of the Carlton SWCD's 2018 Urban Forestry Conservationist award. Congratulations, Bob! And thank you for helping others to learn and succeed in their projects!

Kim Samuelson is Carlton SWCD's elected supervisor for District 4. For more information about urban forest management and the annual Conservation Awards program, contact Carlton SWCD at (218) 384-3891. You can also find more information about Carlton SWCD on Facebook or on their website at


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