By Kim Samuelson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

2019 Outstanding Conservationist creating a legacy

 

November 21, 2019

Provided Photo

Warren Tester (center) with sons Matt (on right) and Brett (on left).

Most people want to leave a legacy, to know that their lives mattered, to leave a contribution of some sort for future generations. But many, however, don't consciously think about what they want their legacy to be or how to build it. They also don't realize that they aren't alone, that they can involve others in creating their legacy.

Warren Tester is one person who has been consciously working on his legacy and, in fact, has already seen not only the positive results of his work, but also the impact on future generations. Because of his work on his "strategic piece of property" in the Nemadji Watershed, according to Kelly Smith, Forestry Specialist with Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Tester is being honored as Carlton County's 2019 Outstanding Conservationist. In fact, Smith also announced that Tester was recently selected by the Minnesota Association of SWCDs (MASWCD) as a finalist representing Area 3 (NE Minnesota) for the MASWCD Outstanding Conservationist Award! The winner of this state-wide award will be announced on December 10 at the MASWCD Annual Convention in Bloomington.


Tester, who lives in Andover, Minnesota, purchased 160 acres of forest land in Carlton County's Clear Creek Township in 1978. The north fork of the Nemadji River, a designated trout stream, flows right through the property. Tester's goals are to improve and harvest the forest and to use the land for hunting with his sons, Matt and Brett, who both now live in the Duluth area. He also knew he wanted to conserve and improve the land and stream as well as teach his sons how to care for the land, a legacy he would someday leave them. But Tester knew he couldn't accomplish his goals by himself.

To start, Tester contacted Brian Allen (Allen Forestry) to write a Forest Stewardship Plan for him in 2008. After several years, Tester approached Carlton SWCD in 2015 for assistance in reaching the goals recommended in that plan to "increase the oak, spruce and young forest components for improved habitat," according to Smith. At the same time, Tester wanted "any forest management to not lead to increased landslides and stream bank erosion in the river valley."

"Typically no logging is done on Nemadji Watershed red clay valley slopes due to the steep slopes making the work slow, unprofitable, and dangerous, and because of concerns for erosion," added Smith. However, "if no logging is done on mature aspen and fir stands, the timber will fall down and convert to brush for many years, resulting in faster runoff and more erosion. To help these valley forests convert to a mixed forest of long-lived, multi-species trees, Forest Stand Improvement practices are used."

After reviewing Tester's 2008 stewardship plan and evaluating the site, Smith wrote forestry practice plans for two very different projects on Tester's forestland. The first was to create 11 acres of early successional habitat on the flats south of the river. "This area was mostly pole-sized aspen and fir on heavy clay soil," Smith explained, and the plan was to harvest trees in the winter, leaving "legacy patches in sensitive areas of draws and wetlands." This area would then be left to grow for at least 10 years to "provide nesting, brood-rearing, and foraging habitat" for a variety of birds and other animals, including golden-winged warbler, black-billed cuckoo, eastern whippoorwill, white-throated sparrow, ruffed grouse, woodcock, deer, bear, etc.

As smaller logging projects don't have "enough timber volume to attract a logger, it can be difficult to get forestry practices done," stated Smith. The SWCD worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide funding assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Eric Schramm, a SAPPI forester, arranged for logging the acreage in the winter of 2017-2018.

The second plan Smith wrote was for forest stand improvement to "release up to 100 crop trees per acre" in the 39 acres of river valley by cutting the surrounding trees. Existing bur oak, paper birch, red maple, white pine, and white spruce would be "released" from the competing aspen and fir. Smith says that this act would "encourage a diverse forest of long-lived, multi-species trees." It would also help to stop "trees in the valley from tumbling down" and being replaced by brush which would "lead to wetter soils, faster runoff, more landslides, bank erosion, and sedimentation in the river."

Funding assistance was again provided by NRCS, and Allen Forestry was hired by Tester to manage the practice in early 2018. Boreal Natives chainsaw crews were contracted to release the desirable trees while leaving most of the forest intact to prevent erosion. Aspen that were cut were left on site as "harvesting them in this case would have cost more than they were worth and may have caused soil damage," Smith shared. The cut areas "were small enough to discourage aspen regeneration," and the downed trees would "provide shelter for new trees of desirable species to grow." Tester continues to maintain these patches by controlling brush to encourage the desired trees to grow.

In another project, Tester again hired Allen Forestry to manage a timber sale on the flats north of the river in the winter of 2018-2019. Smith stated that "Carlton County had recently put in a logging trail for harvesting adjacent county land" in this "difficult to access area." SAPPI did the harvesting and, due to the county logging trail and the larger area of harvest, no funding assistance was needed for this harvest.

"It has been fun and rewarding to improve the habitat on this property," Tester commented. Besides these big projects, he has also worked on a variety of smaller projects through the years, including planting apple trees and white pine and seeding clover in the sight lines. He walks the land monthly and works to keep the brush down on the sight lines. His is currently working with Smith to plant 100 trees and shrubs for wildlife food and cover.

Tester has also involved his two sons since they were young. He has been teaching them by his example, through woodland projects they've worked on together, and with the knowledge he has acquired from forestry experts. He says that his sons "love the land more than I do." All three enjoy spending "guy time" there, walking the land and hunting. And at the end of the day, they all sleep very well in the cabin they built in the middle of the woods next to the creek.

If we compare leaving a legacy to being part of a relay team, Tester has been running his portion of the race very effectively in order to leave that little bit of the world in as good shape as he can. He is confident that when he reaches the point of handing over the baton to the next runner, his sons are very ready and willing to carry on the race, to continue his legacy while adding their own.

With guidance and financial assistance from public and private agencies, Tester has been working on his legacy, his conservation goals for his forest land. You can do the same!

If you have a piece of land, whether large or small, in Carlton County that you would like to be part of your legacy, you don't have to plan and work alone. There are many people, organizations and agencies that can help you during your "run with the baton." Then, like Warren Tester, you can be confident that when it's time for you to hand over the baton and leave your legacy, you know you've done all you can to make your little piece of the world the best it can be for future generations.

Kim Samuelson, the elected supervisor for Carlton SWCD's District 4, encourages you to contact the SWCD for information and assistance to help you improve your land. You can reach the SWCD at 218-384-3891 or through their Facebook page (Carlton SWCD) or through their website at http://www.carltonswcd.org.

 

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