August 13, 2012

How do you say THANKS?!

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 4:36 pm

I’m down to my last couple days working here in Grand Marais and on the Gunflint Ranger District………it has been quite a ride here.  For those of you who are wondering, I started in Grand Marais in August of 2001 and I’ll be leaving here in a couple days so that makes it pretty much eleven years on the nose that I’ve been here……and my time here has been pretty much spectacular.

The thing about that is, I can’t take a lot of credit, there have been so many people working with me that have really done the work.  We have some outstanding employees here in our office and they keep charging forward to help us meet our budget commitments.  And then they do more to help us within the community.  

Much of our forest is about 100 years old and you’ve noticed the older trees are dying.  The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway committee, the biologists from the State and the Tribes, the County Biomass Committee, the timber industry and several local landowners have worked with us to find ways to restore our forests to a healthier state.  One of the facts I learned last Friday is that on the Gunflint District during my time here, we have planted 2.1 million trees, a combination of white, red and jack pine, white spruce, cedar and tamarack will be the next forest we all enjoy. 

Speaking of new forests, we have had around 800 volunteers planting and caring for trees during Gunflint Greenup.  We have had our challenges, but this community doesn’t say quit.  After Ham Lake Fire, there were plenty of reasons for despair, we all could have slumped back to drown our sorrows but another choice was made, a choice to clean up and create a new forest.  The Scenic Byway Committee wrote and received a $250,000 grant for the purposes of forest restoration.  With that we cleaned up some of the dead trees along the Gunflint, prepared some areas for planting, planted seedlings and seeded jack pine.  As you drive up the Gunflint, you can start to see the next generation of forest and it will have a healthy component of pine trees.

Of course Ham Lake was only one of five major fires we had during my time here…..or should I say five major wildfires.  If you look back at the blowdown of 1999, no small event, there have been a number of opportunities for us to get together and find reasons to succeed.  For several years we got together and worked on prescribed fire, I think totaling about 40,000 acres worth.  I’m sure that for many of you it may have seemed like we were coming in heavy handed to get these things done.  However from my point of view we worked with a lot of businesses up the Trail and I got to work with a lot of great people.  Without you, our work would have been a real challenge, but with you, we accomplished quite a bit.

Then the real fires started. Alpine Lake, Cavity Lake, Redeye Lake, Famine Lake………and then Ham Lake, the most destructive fire in our forest’s history.  There were homes, businesses, garages and out building lost, 148 between the US and Canada, but “WE” survived……and through working together have grown stronger because of it.  I mentioned Gunflint Greenup, but there is also the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center, and our venture with Becoming a Boundary Waters Family.  Three great partnerships working together for the good of our forest.

Then there was that peculiar change of events.  Toward the end of 2007, we were “as dry as we have seen it up here”…..until September when the rain started.  I remember someone telling me their lake went up 14 inches with one storm.  Who would have thought that next we would have eight inches in two hours on June 6, 2008?  I’m not sure how wide spread that rain was, but it sure was on the slopes above Grand Marais………..and water still flows downhill…….and that much water REALLY flows downhill……really fast….and will move heaven and earth………or at least a lot of earth.

But again, we found a way to work together and I could even find one bright spot in all that.  Some of you know that I bike to work, at least on the nicer days.  Well for much of the rest of the summer, I had a lane on the hill going down the Gunflint pretty much to myself…….or at least that part of the lane that didn’t wash away.  Once it was fixed, I again was sharing the road and waving to friends as they passed me.

Friends……..I’d somehow like to acknowledge all the friends I’ve made up here and all I’ve worked with…….. or maybe I should say all of you who put up with me……….but I know if I tried, I’d forget someone and all of you are important.  So I’ll generalize a bit and hope you all know how special you’ve made my time here.  Before I arrived, I met and was working with Sheriff Dave Wirt and that only got better after I settled in.  When he retired in early 2005 and Sheriff Mark Falk took over, we continued that great working relationship.  I wondered a few times if Sheriff Dave knew what 2005 would bring with Alpine Lake fire and the beginning of our large fires?  Talk about a new Sheriff being baptized by fire……..and the start of a great working relationship!!!  Then there are the rest of the office, the deputies and dispatch people I got to know……it has been great!!

Within the Cook County Board of Commissioners there have been a few changes since I arrived.  I believe Jan Hall is the only commissioner who has been on the board throughout my tenure here.  I have gotten to work with nearly all the commissioners on one project or another and I truly appreciate all that we have done together.

Though maybe not as visible, I have had the pleasure of working with Grand Portage on several issues.  Norman DesChampe has been the Chairman throughout my tenure and with his staff we have struck an outstanding working relationship.  Norman is one of the great leaders within the Minnesota Chippewa Tribes and I can only think how lucky I’ve been to know and work with him.

I’ve mentioned the support and help we’ve gotten from businesses in the County and that has been nothing short of amazing.  There is just no way we could achieve what we do without the support and help from all of you.  As strange as it might seem, much of our wildlife habitat management and our fuels reduction goals are accomplished through the timber industry and logging.  Most everyone knows Hedstroms and we are very lucky to have them in our back yard, but there are also so many others working in the woods to help us do what we think is right for our forests.  As I think about it, the eagle and wolf populations have been successfully restored, and we’re working on the lynx.  Our next challenge is likely moose and we’ll keep working with the tribes and DNR to do what we can for that species.

A special relationship we have is with the outfitters, guides and hospitality businesses who help us manage the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as well as our campgrounds.  Special because we need those people to help us succeed, but sometimes the policies that come from our upper levels can …………well……..add a little stress.  And I am humbled by how patient my business friends can be to find a way to keep going………I think it’s patience…….?  But I do know how much I appreciate what they do for us.

Since the volunteer fire departments are………well………volunteer, I’m pretty much talking about many of the same people who work in businesses or other agencies.  But the relationship is different when you’re working side by side.  Now we meet, train and work together to help all of our friends in Cook County…….as it should be.

The other agencies are many, from the City of Grand Marais to the County, the State, Grand Portage and even Canada.  I’ve said this in different meetings, but the way you have all come together during our natural disasters is a model for the nation.  Several of the people who have come here to help with those disasters have commented on how they are used to having to bring communities together when they come to help.  But in our community ………….well the leaders here pretty much had their acts together and the incoming teams were in awe of what they saw….doesn’t get much better than that!!

There have been a few other adventures that we have worked on together, a snowmobile trail connection with Grand Portage, some other trail reroutes, a county wide ATV plan (which after all the debate, we’ve finally implemented), some work in our campgrounds, a few miles of hiking trail work, biking trails, a few hundred acres of fuels reduction along with a variety of small projects, too many to name, where I’ve had the chance to work with so many citizens of Cook County where I owe you all so much and thank you so much for  your help.

The one disappointment I have is that I have to this point been unable to bring a solution for access to South Fowl Lake.  As I leave I know I have some co-workers back here who’ll help see that through the final steps.  My disappointment extends to the fact that though this really is a fairly small project, I was unable to bring people together for a resolution.  We are cleaning up a few details that will support my decision and the final proposal before it is submitted it to the Court. 

So as I prepare my next adventure, I leave here grateful for all those who’ve chosen to work with me, grateful to be a part of a resilient community, grateful for the lessons I’ve learned.  But mostly grateful for the friends that have welcomed my family and me to be a part of Cook County!

THANK YOU!!

February 18, 2011

Planning Season

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 4:17 pm

This time of year things slow down just a bit in the woods.   We still go out to prepare for the field season, putting up timber sales, collecting forest data, doing boundary work, etc. but most of our seasonal workforce is gone.  However, the planning processes are working at full speed so that when the warmer seasons hit us, we’ll be prepared. 

I’ve mentioned that we’re working on our “Lima Green” project set which lies between the Lima Grade and Greenwood Lake and is primarily a vegetation project.  I think I also mentioned that much of our focus on this project will be moose habitat improvement.  We recently met with the biologists from the DNR, Grand Portage Band, Fondulac Band and 1854 Authority to get some advice on how to best manage for moose habitat.  These folks really are some of the best in their field and we learned quite a bit from them.  On the disturbing side of things, moose in northwest Minnesota are nearly gone and the reasons are not particularly clear.  In Minnesota the Counties of St. Louis, Lake and Cook are where the moose population numbers are still fairly good and that information validated our goal of promoting moose habitat.

We also learned that the State and Tribes have a moose collaring project started.  Now moose collaring is not a new idea, but this time around they are outfitted with GPS collars which transmit data every twenty minutes on location of the animals and temperature surrounding environment.  With that data, biologists will be able to determine what habitat components are important to moose and potentially how moose respond to temperature conditions.  Previous collaring projects used radio collars which required that biologists once every two weeks or so to fly around and see if they could the animal.  With radio collars, there was the need to find the animal and collect data once in a while.  GPS collars are automatic and the data collection is every twenty minutes, which is a huge increase in quality data.  The other kind of cool thing is that the biologist purposely collared three moose in our project area so they could get and provide data to us and so they could in the future determine the effectiveness of our project work.  We will continue to consult the biologists as we develop and analyze our proposals.

Another group we met with recently is the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee.  We have always felt it important to conserve and promote the scenic quality of the Trail, but now that the Gunflint is designated as a National Scenic Byway there is added emphasis on those goals.  We have had a long standing partnership with the Byway Committee to plan and care for the Gunflint Trail for all residents and visitors and this meeting gave us a chance to review the Byway plan to see how we can best implement the Corridor Plan.

I think the best setting would be to have the Trail lined with a variety of tree and plant species that live long and add color.  Mix that with vistas of the hills, forests, lakes and rivers and you’d have the perfect scene…..well almost.  Let’s go ahead and add that seeing moose, eagles, loons and other animals would be nice too.  The trouble is we have a forest of older trees that are dying and so change is going to take place regardless of anything we do.  Our challenge will be to determine just what actions, including the option of doing nothing, will promote the long term scenic quality of the Trail.

Now onto an issue of National perspective.  Each Forest within the National Forest System has developed Forest Plans following the guidance of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA).  NFMA is implemented through what is called a Planning Rule, the first of which was established in 1982.  Since that time a few attempts have been made to establish a new Planning Rule, but each of those has been overturned in Federal Court.  The Forest Service is now proposing a new Planning Rule and it is out for public comment which ends May 16, 2011. 

To aid in public comment, each Region of the Forest Service is expected to host at least one public meeting to disseminate information.  Our National Office in Washington will host a national Forum on March 10, and the Regions will follow.  Our Region is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23. The intention is to host a video-teleconference, centered in Milwaukee and broadcast to each Supervisor’s office where the local public can gather. So in effect there will be 16 simultaneous meetings with ours being held in Duluth.  The objective of the forums is geared to inform public on how to provide comment rather than collect public comment.

A link to summary information is:

http://fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

A link to more complete information is:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5270648.pdf

December 23, 2010

A Few Things We’re Doing

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 12:26 pm

Wow, time flies.  I thought when I started this blog that I would be able to keep up, it seems that is not so.  As we approach the end of the year, I thought I’d give you a very quick summary of a few of the things we do that maybe you’re not familiar with, kind of a Gunflint District Annual Report, although not very detailed.  These thoughts are in random order, not in any priority or level of importance.

This past year has been a whirl wind of activities we’ve been trying to implement our share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also known as Economic Stimulus.  I mentioned a year ago some of the projects we were trying to accomplish and now I can say we’ve finished most of them.  Our commitment throughout was to work on projects that we had in our plans but did not have the funds to complete, so I feel pretty good about our work.  To list just a few things; we planted several thousand acres of conifer after the blowdown and with the Recovery Act we were able to remove the competing vegetation for 3500 acres of plantation.  As you drive up the Gunflint Trail, those pine trees are now starting to show themselves.  It gives me hope for the forest for the next generation.

We also accomplished around 2200 acres of fuels reduction, which means we used machines to remove the balsam fir understory and left the primary trees intact.  This was mostly done in areas where there are groups of homes as a measure to reduce the threat of wildfire. 

If you travel the Bally Creek Road you might notice the rehabilitation work done on it.  At first blush, it might seem a little too much, but think about your roof for a minute.  Do you replace the shingles when they are getting pretty ragged or do you wait until the roof is leaking so bad that damage is done to the rest of your home?  The shaping we’ve done will help channel rain and run-off so that the surface of the road is protected.

If you like outdoor recreation, you might notice all the new restrooms we’ve put into our campgrounds.  As far as outdoor toilets go, they look pretty good and since they’re made totally of concrete, they should last for decades to come.

There were also projects where the results would not be so obvious but were equally necessary.  The dollars we spent through the Recovery Act went toward private contractors and a few people we hired for these specific projects.  We did not use the money to pay our regular employee’s salary.  A conversation I had with one of our contractors in Cook County indicated that our contracts kept them viable during the economic slowdown.  I’m OK with that.

In a previous post I mentioned the Grand Opening of Chik Wauk, a culmination of years of work by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society.  At last report they had experienced over 8000 visitors, a smashing success.  Congratulations Historical Society and all the volunteers who have helped!!

We have another partnership with the Gunflint Trail Association called Becoming a Boundary Waters Family designed to help people become comfortable in our forest.  Together we sponsored some volunteer trips into the BW; check out the video(s) on either the Forest Service or the Becoming a BW Family web sites.  http://www.gunflint-trail.com/the-gunflinttrail/videos/

If you remember back in October, we had some pretty nice weather, warm weather.  That allowed us to finally conduct the prescribed burns in the Meeds and Dawkins Lake area.  These were units from the fuels reduction plan developed from the blowdown days.  There are those among us that may be thinking that the blowdown fuels are no longer a threat and I was getting to the point where I was wondering as well.  Those two burns, along with the units burned by Kek Lake leave no doubt that blowdown fuels are still force to be reckoned with.  It’s not hard to remember the wildfires of the recent past along with the lessons we’ve learned.  These these fires can cause stress in all of us, I am one who is very glad to have these two behind us.

I’ve talked about our landscape vegetation planning in a past post and we are now in the process of implementing our Twins project.  Upcoming is Lima-Green which spans the area from Lima Grade to Greenwood Lake.  There is usually an theme that I have the team focus on as they start putting the plans together for each area.  Forest Restoration and fuels reduction were our overriding goals for Twins.  In the Lima-Green area, I’ve asked the team to focus on improving moose habitat.  It seems the moose population in Minnesota is on a downward trend and no one is certain what the reason is.  However Tribal Bands of Grand Portage, Fond Du Lac along with the 1854 Treaty Association have some great biologists working for them.  I’ve asked them to help us design the Lima Green project to benefit moose habitat.  I’m looking forward to getting started on that project.

On the heels of Lima Green will be what we’re calling our North Shore, which is pretty much along the North Shore.  We’re trying to get a collaborative of landowners to come together with that effort.  It’s not hard to see what has happened to the forest along Highway 61 and I can imagine our goal being forest restoration.

We will also be working with the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative.  You probably know that they have a two year plan to provide fiber optic lines to each resident of the County.  Since many of their utility corridors pass through National Forest lands, we’ll be helping them with the permits they need.  Since I am a resident of the County, I am looking forward to the capabilities that project will afford.

Hey, who would have thought there would be jellyfish found in the lakes of Cook County?  A rather benign critter as I understand, but interesting none the less.  Check this site for more information in that species.  http://www.aquaticcommunity.com/jellyfish/freshwater.php

Tim Norman our former Zone Fire Management Officer has moved to a new job as our Deputy Forest Fire Management Officer located in Grand Rapids.  Patty Johnson has been selected as our new FMO, many of you know her from her work as our fuels specialist.  We’re wishing good luck to Tim and looking forward to great things from Patty in her new position.

Our Forest is participating in what is called National Visitor Use Monitoring.  This ongoing National Forest survey has already been conducted once on every National Forest in the country.  We are now returning five years later to update the information previously gathered as well as to look at recreation trends over time.  The information is useful for forest planning and can be used for local community tourism planning.  It provides us with an estimate of how many people actually recreate on federal lands and what activities they engage in while there.   For more info, here is a web site.  http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/nvum.

Our South Fowl Snowmobile Trail project has been mentioned in past posts as well.  We have published the draft EIS and are now reviewing and developing our responses to your comments.  As you remember the potential impacts of snowmobile sound in the wilderness was a big issue and we received several comments on that.  I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Most of the things I’ve mentioned above are beyond our normal program of work (the landscape vegetation planning is something we do each year), so our employees are engaged in routine recreation, wilderness, timber management, fish and wildlife habitat management, reforestation and road maintenance as well.   One of the things I like best about the Forest Service is that we are a multiple use agency and can provide a range of opportunities for all of us. 

Maybe I’ll mention one more thing in this post.  I believe we have really great jobs in the Forest Service and part of that is serving where and when needed.  And sometimes you get lucky.  I mentioned that I got to spend two weeks in DC helping to coordinate our response to the Gulf oil spill.  Tim Norman got to spend a month in Australia this past winter (their summer) assisting their managers on wildfire response.  In a couple months, Mike Crook from our office may be heading to Ethiopia to help them with sustainable operations and use of prescribed fire.  We work hard to develop our skills and as I mentioned, sometimes you get lucky.

September 8, 2010

Perspective

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 11:12 am

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written to this blog, one reason is because I was on a short detail into Washington DC working in our headquarters in that town. Seems if you remember we (we as a nation I mean) had an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that had an explosion and subsequent oil spill problem. My part in our Washington office was to coordinate the Forest Service response to that incident. Our role was to assist the US Fish and Wildlife Service with the clean up of the refuges that are located along the shores of the Gulf.

As a side note, the Forest Service has been managing wildfires and other natural disasters for decades and can mobilize a response team in fairly short order. That said, we may be able to respond quickly but mother nature has something to say about how quickly we control the wildfire.

Now as it seems, other agencies in the Federal Government are getting much better at responding to other types of disasters, such as an oil rig explosion and subsequent spill. For my part, I got to learn about blowout preventers, capping stacks, hard booms, sorbent booms, skimming vessels and other clean up items new to me. Interesting is that the incident command system works for most, if not all, disaster responses though the type of operation may be totally different.

I was leaving DC when Hurricane Earl was moving up the east coast with its associated threats. Did you know the forecasters can track those things from the coast of Africa and with a reasonable degree of certainty predict where they might hit the US? I was looking at satellite information and thinking Earl might go through the Gulf and hit Mexico. The hurricane models predicted it to go up the east coast of the US. I was wrong. Two years ago, I had a chance to work at FEMA in DC when Hurricane Gustav hit Texas with some force. Our nation responded quite well to that one, so unless you happen to live in Galveston or Houston, you may not even remember it.

On a more personal note, my nephew was driving a back highway a week ago last Sunday at about the speed limit of 55 mph. Another driver was estimated to be going about the same speed when he blew through a stop sign hitting my nephew. My nephew’s car went airborne, did a half barrel roll and nose dived  upside down, into a front end collision with a ditch. Thank God for air bags and seat belts.  Though cut and bruised both he and his passenger crawled out and walked away from that accident. I’m not sure there is anyway to look at it and determine what kind of car it used to be.

Then there is my wife’s nephew, who with his wife were adoring parents of a baby girl born back in May. At a recent wedding the baby girl’s grandfather and I were walking the halls at the reception talking, eachcarrying our grandkids.  The nightmare happened yesterday when their baby girl passed away during her nap, for reasons no one knows yet. Our families are in shock.  Her name is Ainsley, she was 3 1/2 months old and will be missed.

What do all these have to do with me or with the Forest Service?

Disaster response is part of my job and we will continue to review every situation and learn what we can.  One of the messages from the scientists who review natural disasters and then make recommendations, is to keep our forests healthy, adaptable and resilient. Those three concepts should allow our forests to survive through the various threats of wind, fire, drought, etc. I keep those thoughts as part of my thinking for every decision I make.  

The oil spill in the Gulf was a tremendous national disaster that occurred underwater, in the ocean, thousands of miles from here and hundreds from any forested area.  However, understanding the situation is the Gulf encourages me to keep looking for newer and better ways to utilize renewable biofuels, including the role that our forests and the communities around our forests can play.

My nephew was in a car accident in rural farm lands of Michigan.  But this serves as one more reminder that as I work with and interact with Forest Service employees and our neighbors, I will look for both newer,  as well as tried and tested ways to work safely, whether driving, working in the forest or canoeing through the wilderness.

And finally, I hugged my grandson a little longer and a little tighter before I put him to bed last night.

July 29, 2010

A good month

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 12:07 pm

It is nearly the end of July and what a great month is has been.  We had plenty of warm weather, a fair amount of rain, no wildfires, lots of blueberries and what seems to be a great bunch of visitors.  That last comment may be a bit hard to explain.  Part of my job is providing public services within our National Forest.  And there are times when I’m not sure if it’s the air or water but that “I’m not feeling that friendly today” comes out and then my phone rings…….. a lot.  But it seems the air this month has been really clean and the water has flowed pure; a really good month and I’m OK with that.

Now, I’m not asking for a change in that friendliness, I’m really not, but I do want to let you know what is going on.  We should have our Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the South Fowl Lake Snowmobile Access published by the middle of August.  If you remember, that project started back in 2003 where we found that snowmobile trail was inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  I had to close that but said we would replace the trail outside the Wilderness.  For two years we talked about it, studied it and had field trips to the site to share ideas and thoughts about it.  In 2005 I published the Environmental Assessment and the Decision Notice in 2006.  Since then we’ve been appealed and litigated.  You could say this project was a little controversial………………just a little.

The issues with the proposed new trail are the impacts it might cause on the Boundary Waters.  Though the alternate routes are outside the Wilderness, the sounds of snowmobiles probably could be heard from inside.  So we completed a fairly comprehensive analysis of snowmobile sound with numbers, graphs, tables, maps, photos and conclusions.  But somehow I’m not convinced that all that analysis will resolve the conflict, there seems to be a lot of passion attached to our National Forest management, and in particular our Wilderness management.  And that’s a good thing.

My job may seem pretty bureaucratic at times; I have to work within law, regulation and policy to provide for the multiple benefits of our natural resources.  Some decisions I have no discretion, I just have to do what the law requires, other times I can use my judgment.  In every way, I want to hear from you folks on how we can do better.

So I will publish the Draft EIS and for 45 days we will take comments on it, which is the bureaucratic part.  In the end, we’ll respond to all the comments and I’ll publish a Final EIS with a Decision on which route we should use.  Our law requires that I do that and I’ll cite that in the Decision.

Between now and then, I’ll reflect on how we’ve come a long way since 2003 and all the partnerships we have going on, whether emergency management, scenic byways, museums, or simply ways to show off our part of the country.  Those efforts were not driven by law, regulation or policy, but more a desire from all of us to find ways to work together.  And we do.

This gives me a glimmer of hope that as I go about fulfilling all my natural resource management responsibilities that we will find a way to work together.  Whether it’s putting in a snowmobile trail, harvesting timber or managing our Wilderness, we too can do this.

So as I think about or propose that we do something a fair question from you is “Why do we need to do this?”  And if I can answer that, my question to you is “What would you do?”  With that in mind, let’s work together to provide “…the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run”, a quote from the first Chief of the Forest Service.

July 7, 2010

Chik Wauk Grand Opening

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 12:01 pm

When I first arrived on the Gunflint Ranger District, one of the first places I visited was the Chik Wauk lodge. Under the provisions of the 1978 BWCAW Act from Congress, the Forest Service would acquire resorts if the owners felt that the new law would negatively affect their business. And so it seems did the owners of Chik Wauk and in 1979 we purchased the resort and associated lands.

Ralph and Bea Griffis, the owners, retained a 20 lease on the property so the Forest Service did not take possession of the lodge until 1999, which was just a year before I arrived on the forest.  So as I visited the site, I was given a brief history, I looked at the rather unique lodge building, walked around he site to see the natural beauty of Chik Wauk and pondered what we would do with what is now National Forest land.  I’ll admit a lot of thoughts swirled through my head.  I had a history class in college where we spent time learning about this piece of land.  How through the centuries this land was so important to the American Indians.  At times the Sioux, the Ojibwa, and the Huron occupied the land surrounding Lake Superior.  Later the French fur traders established the Voyageur’s Highway.  More recently how we have struggled with the concept of a modern day wilderness call the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  And then there is the Gunflint Trail….I wondered if we could tell the history of these lands?

But Chik Wauk was a building in disrepair.  The stone structure might last quite a while but the wood parts and roof system did not look good.  And there were all those “out buildings” that were pretty much collapsing on themselves.  Any way you looked at this site, it was going to be an expensive venture.  But still……..what if? chik-wauk-before

We, in the Forest Service, found some funds and took action to at least halt the deterioration of the lodge and clean up the rest of the site.  Then we did what is called a “Future Use Determination” which is pretty much what it sounds like.  If I remember, there were several options from simply taking pictures of the site then tearing it down to transforming it into a weekly family rental cabin, a few other assorted options and then there was the concept of a museum. 

In 2004 as it would happen we were talking to the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway committee of the Gunflint Trail Association.  It seems they had been pondering the same question, and also had dreams of a museum.  I think at just about the same time, we both asked “Do you know how much this would cost?”  But the dreams quickly grew into a proposal from the Association.  I simply asked for a business plan (and it seems coming from an association of businesses, that wasn’t too hard) and we were off to the races. new-front

Five years, countless volunteers, thousands of hours and one million dollars of donations and grants later, on July 4, 2010 the grand opening of Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center took place.  The museum truly is a marvel of creativity, imagination, professionalism and plain hard work.  The displays are a walk through time.  Hands on features are available for kids of all ages.  Video screens bring history alive and the technology will keep the stories fresh.  And the library will fill every nook and cranny of brain cells you have left.  Once you’re done inside the museum, hike the numerous walking trails to learn all that nature has to offer in this land of sky blue waters.touring

Fred Smith the master of ceremonies for both the Saturday open house and the Sunday Grand Opening did a great job recognizing the leadership for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and those who worked on this project.  Jim Sanders, the Forest Supervisor for the Superior National Forest gave the keynote address which included a fascinating sketch of the Boundary Waters and the Gunflint Trail.  The ceremonies concluded with some door prizes, the Chik Wauk raffle quilt was awarded and then the ribbon was cut to begin tours of the museum. 

rolf-skrien-todayMost of us have heard that the Hamm’s beer company filmed many of their commercials of a canoeist and a grizzly bear at Chik Wauk.  One of the great stories of the day was the man who was photographed with that  grizzly bear in the canoe, Rolf Skrien was with us for the Grand Opening.  How cool is that!

I encourage all take a couple hours and visit the upper Gunflint’s newest attraction the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center, it is a dream come true.  Check the gallery for more photos.

July 6, 2010

Land Management

Filed under: Natural Resources — Tags: , — SNFGRDennis @ 4:11 pm

We recently published our environmental assessment (EA) for the area we call “Twins” so that people may comment on our proposal. An EA can be a rather difficult document to read since it has to meet some legal requirements and it tends to have jargon related to natural resources. Basically we’re trying to let people know what our plans are for managing the forest, in this case, in the area of Kemo, East and West Twin, Trestle Pine Lakes area. In general we are planning to do some timber harvesting, reforestation and some understory fuels reduction.

I have found in my travels and in conversations with people is that most do not object to our management. Clearcuts don’t look the best and logging trucks can be somewhat intimidating on our gravel roads. However the comment I hear most often is along the lines of “Can’t you do it somewhere else?” The answer is for the most part, we do…..everywhere other than in the Wilderness.

What I’d like you to think about for a moment is the question, “What would you do?” When you take a look around our National Forest you’ll notice that much of our older forests are not too healthy looking. In fact the paper birch is down right sad looking, it’s dying.

The Superior National Forest celebrated our 100th birthday last year, we were established in 1909 by President Roosevelt. Our National Forest, much like the Lake States was heavily logged at the turn of the 20th century and so a large part of our forest got its start 100 years ago. And for many of the tree species we have up here, that’s about all the longer they live, 100 years. Paper birch, aspen, jack pine, balsam fir are species that are mature at 60 years, over mature at 80 years and are dying at 100 years old. Red and white pine along with cedar can live much longer, but those species are not found everywhere.

If you take a look at some of our Twins Project, you’ll see that we have at least one large area where there will be no harvesting, only mechanical site preparation and planting. The trees have all died and there is only brush species living there now. If we do nothing, that area will keep increasing in size with species of mountain maple, hazel and tag alder, not the tall trees we’d all like to see.

My goal is to leave the next generation a healthy forest for people to come and either live here with us or visit and enjoy. And as I drive through and work in this forest, that question, “what should we do?” is always on my mind. The areas we harvest are soon full of healthy young trees and those grow to be healthy forests.

Today I drove past a stand that was clearcut about 10 years ago. I saw jack pine, paper birch, spruce, aspen and balsam fir covering the once harvested stand. Right next to it is an area that was not cut and hazel, tag alder, mountain maple and balsam fir are the only species that are replacing the trees that die. On Sunday I drove down the Gunflint Trail and looked at the stands that were blowndown in July 1999. Many are now full of red and white pine some of which is eight feet tall. Forty years from now, our children and grand children will enjoy the tall pines in those stands. And those trees will still be healthy 140 years from now……and they will be bigger.

We have planted the blowdown areas and since Ham Lake Fire, we have planted 1.8 million trees in Cook County. Change will occur whether sudden and quick with blowdown and fire or through the aging process. What we choose to do may or should I say will make a difference to our children’s children. The Twins area is simply our next step to ensure future generations may continue to enjoy healthy National Forests.

You can visit our forest website http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior/projects/nepa_project.php?project=28971 and see what we are proposing to do. As you do, please know that we will preserve segments of old forest and we will regenerate segments of young forest and along the way, we’ll reduce the fuel loading and threat of wildfire. As you look at the Twins area, again, ask yourself, “What would I do?”

Now, let me move you into the future a couple years. We will be looking a the North Shore area or that of the highway 61 corridor. You all can see what is going on there with tree mortality. Probably one of our toughest questions is what should we do there? Think about that one, I know we will.

March 26, 2010

An Early Spring

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 3:00 pm

It’s not really news to anyone that our snow is nearly gone and we’re experiencing an early spring.  And I’m guessing that most of you have memories of spring 2007 when the snow left and strong hot winds visited us in early May I’m not sure you can ever be completely prepared, but we’re working on it.  Our fire and mobilization plans are updated.  The Forest Service, Counties, State and Tribal partners have updated and reviewed our Northeast Minnesota Integrated Response Plan.  I’ve just returned from a couple days in Canada where we met and reviewed our action plans with our counterparts in Ontario.  Our remotely operated weather stations are up and operating to provide 24 hour data on weather parameters.  Plus our equipment is being tested and prepared for this early spring.

Probably one of the greatest concerns this time of year has to do with all those grasses and herbaceous plants that grew so well last year are now dead and “cured” which pretty much means dried out and ready to burn.  They start a fire very easily and burn very fast.  Again that’s probably not news to many of you; I’m guessing you already know that is why you see various groups burning the road sides, ditches and fields.  It gets rid of the “flashy” fuels and recycles the nutrients for the growing season. 

Because we’re at least a month to six weeks from “green up” where the fire danger will go down, we’re taking some steps to help us be prepared.  We have several grassy openings in the forest that are maintained in open conditions for some species of wildlife.  Our maintenance plan may include mowing every few years or burning.  This year we’ve started to burn some of those openings with an additional focus other than the wildlife benefits.  I’ve asked our fire crews to run our fire behavior models before each burn to predict the expected fire behavior on the unit.  Then as they conduct the burn, I’ve asked them to take careful measurements of fire behavior as the burn proceeds.  The information will then serve as a tune up for our fire folks to prepare for the season, but will also help us maintain vigilance on the actual fire danger of our forest setting.  We’ll then use that information to help inform the public and make any necessary decisions for the next few weeks.

As of this moment, the grass is burning pretty mildly and the fires are tending to put themselves out when the fire reaches the edge of the forest.  That’s good because that is what our models are suggesting would happen.  However I’m guessing we all know how fast the temperatures can rise, which also means how fast the grass and fine dead vegetation can dry out.  We’ll be watching the temperatures, relative humidity and winds very carefully over the next several weeks and that is what I’m asking all of us in Cook County to do as well. 

So, when you feel that spring has arrived and it just seems like you want or need to go out and have a fire; maybe that is the time to use a whole lot of extra caution.

March 12, 2010

Spring Breakup

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 4:08 pm

It seems that spring comes at least once per year so you would think we should be prepared for it.  The trouble is we’re not that good at predicting just when it arrives.  For most of us that’s not a big deal, but when we’re managing natural resources including gravel roads, the arrival of spring is important.  Or should I say the arrival of breakup or mud season. 

Because our roads are frozen and they do tend to thaw out during this time period, there is a need to put load limits on our roads.  Not a big deal I guess since we work with both the State and the County on the timing of road weight limits and it only takes a couple days to implement those.  But there are the people who make their living in our forests and who use our roads.  As well as having a concern for the roads, we have probably a larger concern for the stability of our forest soils.   Heavy equipment like loggers use works very well on frozen soils but can do some not very nice things during this time of year.

So, with the somewhat sudden coming of breakup there was a flurry of activity where the loggers who work on National Forest lands were rushing to get their equipment out of the woods, plus they kind of wanted to get their harvested wood out as well.  They did so, and our forests are pretty quiet this time of year, waiting for the soils to dry out so woods workers can return. 

Similarly we suspended operations on our hazard tree removal project that was going on near the upper end of the Gunflint Trail.  We needed to get the heavy equipment off from the roads for a while.  I’ll have to add that this operation did leave a bit of unsightly slash along the Gunflint.  It seems those fire killed trees were pretty brittle and the branches easily broke off during the clearing process.  This tells me the trees needed to come down, but it also tells me we’ll need to get some hand crews out to help reduce the slash.  Unfortunately our hand crews don’t come on until the first of May, so I’ll need your patience until then.  By the first of June we should have the shoulders of the Gunflint cleaned up.  That is two and a half months, but I’m hoping that’s not too bad a price if our actions prevent a serious injury.

February 26, 2010

Feb 26

Our weeks are busy and maybe too often we fail to realize how good we have it in northern Minnesota, or could it be only a few of us need to stop and realize that?  I was on my way to one more meeting the other morning and my passenger noticed an eagle sitting in a tree.  Then pretty much at that same time, we both noticed the road kill on the opposite side of the road.  However because something didn’t seem quite right, I changed my focus back to the oncoming traffic.  The reason became obvious when my passenger said “There’s a wolf!”.  As fortune would have it, I had my camera along and we had a couple minutes to spare, so I share these with you. 

Those eyes

Those eyes

Road Warrier

Road Warrior

Eagles and wolves, a pretty good use for road kill I’d say.  We watched on our way home from the meeting, hopefully to see that this guy had not suffered the same fate as his meal.  It looked as though his food supply had been dragged off the road and there was no evidence of additional blood spilled,  a good thing I’d say.
On to some other news.  The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway committee wrote a grant for us last year to which we were awarded nearly $240,000 to help with the recovery efforts after Ham Lake Fire.   Those dollars combined with our regular program, we’ve planted over 1.3 million trees since the fire (that total is within Cook County, but a significant portion was in the Ham Fire area), we’ll be planting another 150 acres in the fire area this year, we’ve seeded jack pine on about 1000 acres, released about 800 acres of trees that were planted after the fire and we’re now starting our hazard tree removal along the Gunflint Trail.   This work is oriented toward the end of the Gunflint and will cut and remove dead trees that could potentially fall onto the Gunflint Trail.  That means roughly within a tree length of the county highway, the larger dead trees will be cut and removed.  This summer, those areas where dead trees are removed will be evaluated for reforestation needs.
One more thing you might see starting up soon is our fuels reduction contract implementation.  We received dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (sometimes  known as Economic Stimulus) for several types of projects and fuels reduction is one of those.  In the area of Washington Pines we’ll be removing some of the understory growth that has come in under the large pines, however, be sure that none of the pines will be cut.  The smaller undergrowth is primarily balsam fir which is a very flammable species.  If a wildfire were to get started within the Washington Pines area, the presence of the balsam fir would almost ensure the death of the  pines.  By removing the understory, we take steps to promote the long term health of the larger pines. 
If  you want to get a sense of what it will look like, simply drive by the pines and look on the north side of the highway.  You’ll note that you can see farther into the pines in a portion of the stand and that is because our fire crews have been working to remove the underbrush.  Some people may like being able to see farther through the big pines, other may not.  However evidence from across the country indicates our pines are safer without the balsam fir living in the understory.
Older Posts »