December 2, 2009

National Forest Update

It has been a while since I’ve posted on this blog and I apologize for that.  It seems this summer and fall got quite complicated for me and this is one area that suffered.  I’m hoping to keep up at least once a week from now on, though the holidays might see some delays.  So I thought I’d update on a few things going on within the Superior National Forest.

Our Forest Supervisor on November 19 signed the revised decision for our “Travel Management Plan” which outlines travel routes for motor vehicles including ATVs.  This has been in the works for quite a while now and if you’ve been following this process, you’ll remember that a decision was signed about a year ago but then that was remanded upon appeal.  We have filled in the gaps that were missing from the original EA and have confidence this will stand.  Of course our goal is that since we have spend many hours and many meetings with the public that though the decision may not be exactly what everyone is looking for, people will understand that it was very much a collaborative effort and will not attempt to block implementation.  As with every project, we will monitor implementation of this plan and adapt when necessary.

Another project that has been going on for quite a while is the planning effort for a safe snowmobile route to South Fowl Lake on the eastern end of the National Forest.  The Judge from the District Court ruled in our favor on all but one issue and directed us to prepare and environmental impact statement (EIS) to cover the impacts of sound to the wilderness.  The plaintiffs then took us to the appeals court challenging the parts of the District Court decision that was in our favor.  We were upheld at the Appeals level and now are at work on the EIS.  To ensure we can complete that in a timely manner, we have contracted with a private company to help us prepare that document.  The first part of the public participation is complete and the company is working on the EIS.  I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, We also will be working on some road work and culvert replacements later this year that some construction companies may be interested in.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, this is the stimulus bill that was passed early this year.  The Superior National Forest was awarded about 13 million dollars worth of projects, some of which are being implemented and some are out for bid.  One of the first projects involved hiring MCC (Minnesota Conservation Corps) to work on our trail maintenance.  Our partners have mentioned several times that the work done by these crews has really helped on the backlog of maintenance needs.  Recently we found that we received funding to keep the crews going for the next year or two.  Some of the work that is out for bid includes hand release of our plantations where a person generally uses a brush saw to cut brush and competing vegetation from around planted trees.  Another project will involve use of machinery to cut and pile understory fuels around some areas where there is concentration of homes.  While home owners are encouraged to ensure they have completed firewise work on their property, our fuels work will help with adjacent National Forest lands.   We also will be working on some road work and culvert replacements later this year that some construction companies may be interested in.

I’m going to include some instructions on how to find these projects online and bid if anyone is interested.  I’ll admit that since we are a Federal agency, this can be a bit intimidating but people do find a way to work through the process and bid.  I just went to the site and was able to fairly quickly find all the projects listed for Minnesota and those included all contract bid items over $25,000.  Time may be short so if you are interested in current projects, you should act quickly.

How to locate ForestService contracts advertised on the FedBizOpps website.

Step 1 - Log on to

Step 2 – Select the Opportunities link.

Step 3 - Select the Advanced Search link.

Step 4 - Under Agency/Office/Locations, click the circle next to Specific Agency/Office/Locations.

Step 5 - Under Agency/Office(s):, hit the drop down arrow and place the cursor over Department of Agriculture, then select Forest Service at the right.

Step 6 - Click on the Show/Update Office Locations For Selected Agencies

Step 7 - Click on the box next to Forest Service/Eroc East.

Step 8 - Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Search.


For regular contract advertisements for the Superior and Chippewa National Forests, click the box next to Forest Service/R-9 Minnesota Shared Services Contracting Unit in place of step 7.

Maybe the last thing I’ll mention on this post is the work the County is doing in preparing for emergencies.  There is a team that meets at least once per month and it’s called the Cook County Emergency Preparedness Committee.  Several of the emergency response agencies from the County, State and Forest Service continually discuss and prepare for a variety of potential emergencies that could affect Cook County Citizens.  This could range from wildfire to our latest planning effort for H1N1 with the thought of ensuring this County has thought through the necessary preparations in the event a large percentage of the County is affected.  I have contacts from across the nation and from what I’ve been told, Cook County is among the leaders in emergency preparation.  For a small County that is pretty good and I’m hoping each of us appreciates the work these folks do for all of us.

July 17, 2009

Canoe The Heart

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 11:22 am

On Monday of this week I participated in a celebration called “Canoe the Heart”.  To back up a bit, about three years ago, the agencies along the border started thinking about a collaborative relationship.  At the start there were Voyageurs National Park, Quetico Provinical Park and the Superior National Forest.  Now there are about 25 entities that are members of the group that call themselves “Heart of the Continent“.  They do not talk policy but rather they are a partnership  of  Canadian/American land managers and local stakeholders working together on cross-border projects that promote the economic, cultural and natural health of the lakes, forests and communities on the Ontario/Minnesota border.

This year is our Centennial celebration and it is also the centennial celebration for Quetico Provincial Park. So the folks at Heart of the Continent decided to do a canoe trip from Atikokin Ontario, over to International Falls and back to Saganaga Lake.  From there they would move to Grand Marais and canoe to Grand Portage then onto Thunderbay.  All was done in a nine person “Voyageur” style canoe.  Stops were made along the way in various small towns to celebrate the centennial for both the park and the national forest. The celebration for Cook County took place at Chik Wauk, in the Grand Marais Recreational Park, and at the National Monument in Grand Portage.

All rather fitting I would say.  As I think about the eons of time, the one connection we all have is water.  Humans have traveled the oceans for centuries.  The Great Lakes and the Sweetwater Trail provided a link first for Native Americans, later for Voyageurs, settlers and present day shipping between Minnesota and the eastern part of our continent.  And then there are the lakes of the Boundary Waters that provided a canoe highway for early Natives, Voyageurs and today’s recreationists.

Voyagers Arrival

Voyagers Arrival

The waters that provided life and mobility to early Americans still provide a connection for the people of the United States and Canada.  And what better places to celebrate that connection than Grand Portage, Grand Marais and Chik Wauk?  All places on the water established so many years ago and remain to serve people of today.  I thought it particularly relevant to celebrate at Chik Wauk, a place built to serve people who came to use the land and waters.  Through the efforts of the community of the Gunflint Trail, it will continue to serve to tell the story of the connection of the people to the lands and waters of northeastern Minnesota and Canada.

Staff from the Wilderness Canoe Base and Gunflint Wilderness Camp provided voyager canoes  to ferry  visitors from the County parking lot on the Sag Trail to Chik Wauk.  And then those same voyageur canoes paddled up the Sag Corridor to escort the expedition canoe back to Chik Wauk. 

There were about 150 people in attendance on a bright sunny day.  Included were a  few activities for the kids and then a great meal provided by Gunflint Lodge.  After lunch there were short presentations by Quetico’s Dave Maynard and Superior National Forest’s Lee Johnson on the history of each.  The celebration was capped by a special recognition of Janice Matichuk, who has staffed Quetico’s  Cache Bay Ranger Station for the past 25 years.

Check out the photos on the side bar of this post.

July 8, 2009

Boundary Waters Families

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 8:54 am

I was fortunate that I got to participate in one of the “Becoming a Boundary Waters Family” seminars that the Gunflint Trail Outfitters are putting on this summer.  By now I’m hoping most people have heard of the activities that are offered free of charge at various locations up the Trail. We have partnered with the Outfitters to see if we can reach our urban populations that may have never had the chance to visit the north woods or the Boundary Waters for a wilderness trip.  I am using this post to also spread the word that those opportunties are available to all.  There is a list of events and a schedule on so please visit and tell your friends about the good times that can be had here in Cook County.

The seminar that I participated in is called paddle and lunch, where the folks at Norwester and Rockwood teach you to paddle a canoe, set up a camp and fix a lunch over a campfire.  I didn’t count but I’m thinking we had 20 or so people along of which we had three generations in one family.  Of course that group would be too big to go into the BWCAW together but since we were on Poplar Lake in a seminar together on an island, the group size was just fine.  And what a great way for grand parents with their kids and grandkids to share a day and get the grandkids started on a life of camping memories.    Check out the photos on the side bar.  Thank you Gunflint Trail Outfitters!!

July 7, 2009

Summer and Wildfires

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 3:25 pm

seagull_buiThought I’d write a quick note to remind folks that we’re into summer now and we all need to think about wildfire potential.   Last Saturday we had our fourth human caused fire of the season, this one out on Northern Light Lake.  I realize this year has had its share of rain, cool and cloudy days that make having a campfire a great thing.  However practicing good camping habits now will pay dividends for those times when conditions are a little more serious.  

Speaking of fire conditions, the following graph displays one of the indices that we watch  when determining how serious the fire danger is.   The blue line shows where we are presently and you can see that we’re pretty much running along the average line.  You can also see that our average for this time of year is an upward trend indicating that the fire danger overall is increasing.   When we start getting above that “90%” line, then conditions are such that larger fires can occur,,,,,, if they get started!

That is where we all come in.  This is a great place to live, work and play.  Let’s enjoy that, hike, boat, fish and have our campfires.  But then let’s put the campfires completely out.


July 2, 2009

10 Years Later

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 4:15 pm

Just thinking over the last 10 years and how they have flown by. About this time in 1999 I was working on the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan. I was managing several programs for a District that was about 400,000 acres in size, and I had a bit of experience in incident management. Who knew that one storm brought to us on July 4, would create such a difference in all our lives?

The first time I heard about it was when a request came through our dispatch that there was a need for crews to come and help clean up this massive blowdown that occurred on the Superior National Forest. My role in addressing the request was to help package teams and get them on the road to Minnesota. Three weeks later our crews started filtering back and talking about the total impact of this storm. No, they said it wasn’t just a minor thing, it was really widespread and a total blowdown.

Then in August I got a different type of phone request, one that asked if I could go for four months to the Superior National Forest to help direct the recovery effort for the storm. I remember thinking that I really didn’t want to be away from home for that many months. However I had been looking for something different, so why not?

That short term detail turned into two years of working for this Forest in Duluth on the recovery effort. Roads, rights of way, homes, trails, portages, campgrounds, campsites, the clean up seemed at times endless. Then there was the potential for large scale fire and the planning and preparations that needed to be done to reduce the potential fire starts, reduce the fuels from the blowdown and to increase our abilities to fight “the big one”.

Now this weekend will be the 10th anniversary of that storm. I reflect on that and all that the citizens of this county have been through in this past decade. Rebuilding lives, homes, properties and businesses after the blowdown. Transporting literally tons of slash and debris to disposal sites. Preparing defensible space around homes and putting in sprinkler systems. Surviving each fall as the Forest Service trekked up the Gunflint to conduct prescribed burns. And then the wildfires came, first Alpine Lake in 2005, Cavity Lake, Redeye, Famine Lakes in 2006 and the largest most destructive fire in our Forest’s history, Ham Lake Fire in 2007.

So, what is there to say now that we’re in 2009? For me, it is that the citizens and communities of Cook County are stronger than ever. In the face of conflict, we have strengthened relationships and built partnerships. We have partnered with the Gunflint Trail Association to enhance the Gunflint Trail as a scenic byway. We have partnered with Cook County to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan from which Tait Lake Home Owners Association, and the residents of the Midtrail area have received financial assistance for fuels reduction and the Maple Hill Fire Department has received funds for equipment.

We have partnered with the Gunflint Trail Association to reforest the Ham Lake burn area through Gunflint Greenup, to educate families on becoming a “Boundary Waters Family” and to tell the history of the Boundary Waters and Gunflint Trail through the Chik Wauk Historical Museum and Nature Center.

If it sounds for a moment that I am focusing on the Gunflint Trail area, that would be because that is where the blowdown and fires occurred. We have many great things happening across the County but on this 10th anniversary of the blowdown, I want to say thanks and my hat is off to the residents and businesses for 10 years of working together through some pretty trying times!

June 26, 2009


Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 8:10 am

I guess it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted a blog, time flies when you’re having fun it seems. Last Friday we held an open house to celebrate our one hundredth anniversary as the Superior National Forest. President Theodore Roosevelt signed a proclamation on February 12, 1909 to establish the Superior National Forest and it has been a fast pace journey since then. President Roosevelt and Chief Gifford PinchotI guess one of the interesting points from my perspective is that we are one hundred years old and we have five employees that have been with us for at least 33 years each. They were a part of one third of the history of this forest. I’m guessing that there have been some members of Cook County who can claim to have lived and worked in this forest for a longer time, maybe even through half of the history of this forest. I know some that would qualify for that merit badge and I’d like to think of them as partners and friends.

So, last Friday was spent with some of the residents of Cook County as well as some of our guests that were traveling through. I spoke with one family where both the mom and dad were members of our military on active duty and they had two kids. Their current duty station is Korea, but were on a 30 day leave and had come back to the states. On Friday morning, kind of on a whim they decided to drive up the shore to visit Grand Marias. They saw our sign, stopped in and visited with us and participated in the activities we had available in our parking lot. mom-and-daughterOne of the best parts was mom and daughter took a shot at the cross cut sawing and then dad and son took their turn. I’m not sure yet which couple took the trophy home for the quickest cut, but I know they had a lot of laughs. For me, it was a privilege to be part of their day and their vacation back to the states; I thank them for their service to all of us.

We also had the local young explorer group visiting with us. Maybe they didn’t appreciate all the historic memorabilia we displayed in our conference room as much as did some of the adults. However I don’t know that anyone enjoyed the activities more than this young group. Plus I’m quite sure no one had more fun with Smokey Bear than these fun loving kids. smokeys-friendsI wonder if I owe an apology to their parents?? These kids pared up and really went after the cross cut sawing, each trying to out do the previous group. I believe someone was keeping time to see which group cut through the log the fastest but I can’t tell you which one it was. What I do know is that those little end pieces of log kept disappearing. At first as I looked over at the sawdust and wondered but then I noticed as each piece was cut the young folks would scramble to stuff the end piece in their backpack to take it home with them. I guess what was a scrap chunk of dead balsam to me was a trophy to them. And now their parents get to decide what to do with their trophy.

Thanks to all who stopped in and visited with us, please take a look at the photo album along side this blog (that is assuming I can figure that part out and get it to work).

June 5, 2009

1st of June

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 12:49 pm

Last week I asked some questions about search and rescue not knowing that we would have another busy week. Again there were parties that were overdue and relatives contacted the Sheriff. Calls were placed to us, we gathered forces and provided assistance. A thought I’d like to share is that our working relations with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department are excellent. We can talk about all the factors of the “late” parties and together determine the strategy we’ll use to conduct the search. Generally the level of search is scaled to the level of concern that something has gone wrong. For instance, our history has shown that strong winds can cause canoeists to stay in camp for an extra day. Therefore being a day late under those circumstances doesn’t raise the concern level to a high degree.

Both cases this past week turned out well and the people were generally no worse for the wear. One party had their canoe blown off their campsite and was unable to locate it. Two days later with the help from other canoeists, their canoe was located and retrieved. Another party simply made a wrong turn and it took them a few days to figure out their location. All of that is part of the wilderness experience and there is probably some lessons for all of us regarding canoeing in windy conditions and practicing navigational skills. Again, both parties were safe and neither had to be “rescued”.

This week we hosted our Regional Forester, Kent Connaughton from Milwaukee. To give you some perspective, my supervisor is Jim Sanders from Duluth and Jim’s Supervisor is Kent. The next level up from Kent is our agency director in Washington DC.

Kent is fairly new to our region and his purpose in visiting us was to meet our employees. However since he was flying in on one of our beaver aircraft, I took the opportunity have the plane land on Seagull Lake where I could show of the impacts of our recent fires. We also stopped at Chik Wauk and met with several of the groups with which we have ongoing partnerships. That included the Historical Society from the Chik Wauk museum project, the Scenic Byway Committee for Gunflint Greenup, the Gunflint Trail Outfitters with Becoming a Boundary Waters Family venture, Cook County Community Wildfire Protection Plan working on the Midtrail fuels reduction project and the Gunflint Trail Fire Department where we have worked together on several projects.

Now we have several groups that we work with here in Cook County and all deserve recognition. However, this visit with Kent only provided one hour for me to “stop along the way” and I had to make some choices. This time my decisions as to who we could visit were somewhat opportunistic in that we were starting at Seagull Lake and driving down the Gunflint Trail. But there are a few more thoughts I wanted to share with Kent.

Over the past 40 years there have been no less than 15 incidents that directly affected the residents of the upper Gunflint Trail, from blowdown to fire. Many of those from the Hungry Jack Fire in 1967 to the Ham Lake fire in 2007 potentially threatened the lives, homes and businesses of Cook County from Midtrail to the end of the trail. I guess we could discuss whether the blowdown of 1999 or Ham Lake Fire of 2007 was the most destructive. Either way, the outcome is a community of people coming together, being creative and partnering with those of us in government service to provide some stability during times of tribulation. I think that was worth an hour of Kent’s time and the people he met represented the residents of Cook County very well. My thanks to them.

May 29, 2009

Warmer Temps

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 11:58 am

Another week has gone by and we’re seeing a little warmer weather. Leaves are popping out (I wonder if our friends in the southern part of the State know that we green up just a bit later than they do???). I do see several people coming through our office on their way to the wilderness and so it would seem that the cooler spring we’ve had has not deterred anyone, at least to a great degree.

So, what do the warmer temps mean to us? Our fire folks have been conducting some prescribed burns these last two weeks and those have been fairly successful. A couple of the units that were done last week are what we call understory burns. The fire is ignited under a canopy of standing trees and in this case the trees were white and red pine. Our goal is to burn any slash that might be there, kill any understory brush that is living under the trees and consume enough duff so that new white and red pine might start growing. To be successful we need to have the fire hot enough to kill and burn the things we want burned, but not so hot that we kill the overstory red and white trees. The post burn reports tell us that so far everything looks like it should, now we wait to see if the seeds from the pine trees will start the next forest for us.

I mentioned that our office has seen quite a number of people picking up their BWCAW permits to take a trip into the wilderness. My casual conversations with our cooperators suggests that maybe the season started slow, but is picking up speed as we go. My real point for this discussion is that we have had our first search and rescue for the season. We worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s office to search for a person who was a couple days overdue coming out of the Boundary Waters. Our role was to put wilderness rangers into the Boundary Waters on what would be the persons entry point as well as the exit point and have them canoe toward each other. We also offered an aircraft (one of our deHavilland Beavers) to search from the air.

In this case the person’s campsite was spotted from the air, the beaver landed and after an assessment the person was flown out. All of this makes me ponder the decades old debate of are our expectation of visitors that go into the “wilderness”? I believe a common sentiment would be that a person who chooses to venture into the Boundary Waters should be self sufficient, work through all the challenges that might come with a wilderness experience and make their way back out again. There are times when a person finds themselves in a life threatening situation, immediate medical attention is required and rescue is appropriate. But what about those gray areas when the wilderness challenge turns into a struggle (let’s say a twisted knee makes walking very difficult and painful)? At what point do we say, “You’re in a wilderness, tough it out.” versus “We better medevac this person.”? We usually error on the side of caution, but then it always makes me wonder if then it really is a “wilderness challenge”? I’m not sure I have a clear answer on this one.

One other thing I’d like to report is that the Superior National Forest has received our next round of stimulus funding. This one deals primarily with fuels reduction and healthy forests. Our objective through this funding is to provide jobs for US citizens so the majority of the funding will go for either contract work or hiring a few temporary employees to accomplish the objectives. With the exception of contract administration, we will not fund our current employees with stimulus dollars.

In Cook County we expect to accomplish priority fuels reduction work. Some of this will be previously planned but unfunded projects and some will be working with private land owners. We’ll do some maintenance work on our tree plantations to improve the success of the planted trees. And we’ll work on removing some invasive plant species. We’ve begun the process to make this happen and I’ll try to keep you posted as to when the contract request for proposals comes out in case you’re interested in bidding.

We had previously been awarded stimulus funding to maintain our trails and I believe I mentioned that the Kek Trail will be one that will be worked on. Several MCC crews are at work across the forest to accomplish those goals. In the future, we still expect to hear if we will receive any funding to do road and bridge maintenance, stay tuned.

I wish everyone a great weekend!

May 22, 2009

Welcome Aboard

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 12:22 pm

I would like to welcome the more than 65 summer workers to both the Gunflint and Tofte Ranger Districts and to Cook County. This includes those whom we have hired and those who will volunteer a significant part of their summer working with us. We have had several come on board these past two weeks but more will be arriving as their school year ends. I believe the furthest traveler comes from New Mexico.

Our summer staff will work in a variety of areas from greeting customers at our visitor reception desks, to working with our wilderness rangers in the BWCAW to working on our fire and fuels crews, preparing timber sales, conducting wildlife surveys, helping in our reforestation and timber stand improvement programs and taking care of our recreation areas.

One of the interesting things about Cook County is that businesses here host summer employees from across the globe. Being able to talk with folks from several different countries certainly broadens our cultural experience. At the same time it shrinks our world as we realize how much we all have in common. I bring this small fact up because I would like to encourage those of us who live up here to get to know our seasonal Forest Service employees. But then I realize that Gunflint and Tofte’s summer employees are but a small part of our County’s global workforce. There are a lot of people who travel half the world to come here to work for the summer. I’m thinking that makes this County pretty special.

If I’m lucky, by the end of the summer, I will get to know all our new employees (when our summer workers spend their days in the woods and their nights in the town, I just don’t see them all that much). However, this year I think I will also make the attempt to get to know some of those who will work at other businesses in town. My daughter has a room mate from Lebanon and getting to know her has dramatically changed my opinion of her country. Hopefully the same will happen as I get to know those who come to work with us in Cook County.

May 15, 2009

Spring Notes

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 10:39 am

My purpose for establishing this blog was to let people know what was happening on the Gunflint District and if you wish to do so, comment on our plans. May is extremely busy which I believe is nothing new to the residents and businesses of Cook County. But I thought I’d give you a run down on some of the things we’re trying to accomplish this month to give you a flavor for what we do.

May 1st starts our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permit season, but that does not necessarily guarantee we’ll be free of ice?? Regardless our office is now open from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week. Stop in and visit and you’ll see the Centennial display we’ve put up for the season.

With the passing (some say finally) of our snows, that puts us into reforestation season. Over the years, we gather seeds from the tree species we’d like to either plant or directly seed back into areas that have been cleared (either by logging or fire). If we’re going to plant, we’ll send the seed to our nursery in Watersmeet Michigan where the seed is put into a planting bed and grown for two years. Early in the spring the seedlings are pulled from the ground, packed a sent to us for out planting. With our Gunflint Greenup day we put 25,000 trees into fire killed areas. And at least 350 people know the sound of “Chink” as their planting bars hit rock instead of soft ground. This month through our planting contracts we’ll put another 475,000 trees into Cook County for the next generation of forest. It takes several of our folks to administer a contract of that volume of trees.

Each year Congress requires that the Forest Service offer a specified volume of timber for sale. Our share of that target is about eight million board feet which means harvesting on about 1060 acres, or one quarter of one percent of the Gunflint District. This year we are working on mature and over mature forest around Devil Track Lake, with a focus on harvesting over mature aspen and reducing the heavy balsam fir fuel load and hence reducing the threat of wildfire to the residents near the lake. All of this requires that we either designate the trees to be cut or the trees to be reserved with paint two marks. One each tree at about eye level and one low on the stump. You can see that to be successful, we have to wait until the snow is gone to put a paint mark of the stump that will survive and therefore ensure that only the trees designated for harvest are the ones that get cut. We have our permanent employees but also hire several seasonal employees to assist us with our timber sale preparation. Spring time, without leaves, is the best time to “see” our way through the woods and get these areas ready for harvest.

You’ll note that a lot of our work this month is related to the passing of the winter and so too with our recreation/wilderness programs. Our wilderness crews have made their first overnight trips to evaluate portages and campsites. Upon return they begin putting their season program of work together to ensure both the campsites and portage trails are clear and maintained (remember that ice storm we had???).

Speaking of the ice storm, immediately following the storm our crews spent a week clearing ice damaged trees from our plowed roads. However, we also have 300 miles of road that were not plowed. For some reason as the winter’s snow and ice left us, it forgot to take those broken trees with it. A crew of 15 employees spent a week cutting and throwing those broken parts off from our roads.

I should also mention that another item that winter ice and spring thaws presents to us is frozen culverts. If those are not opened up, we end up with roads washed out which can at times create a dangerous conditions. Our man in charge of road maintenance spends several days steaming culverts to remove the ice to allow the spring runoff to flow through the pipes instead of over the road.

We are very fortunate that we have several volunteer groups that help us with hiking trail maintenance. This month we spend coordinating and outfitting several trips for those groups to work on the Border Route, Eagle Mountain/Brule Lake and Kek hiking trails. And yes, the Kek Trail has been flagged and crews will be working on the maintenance of that trail this summer. During our Greenup event a couple hiked the Kek, not far behind the person who was doing the flagging, and later mentioned that the trail would have been a bit hard to follow without the flagging. MCC crews will be working with us this summer and Kek will be a priority.

Most of our larger campgrounds are run by concessionaires but that does not relieve us from our responsibility. At Trails End Campground we’ve put a solar powered water pump in our well and this spring, we replaced the water tank to complete that project. We now have most of our campground water systems operating by solar power.

We also have several smaller sites that our crews are busily cleaning to get them ready for the season.

May 5, 2007,,, was that just yesterday,, or oh so long ago? The day that Ham Lake fire started was also the start of our third extreme fire season in a row. I guess you could say last year was as reprieve and we’ll see how this year goes. However our fire crews are busy putting the equipment into ready status, hiring a dozen seasonals to help out, pulling all the required fire training together, assuring all the testing is completed,,,,,,,,,, and yes we’ve had our first fire, near Tait Lake. Maybe this is a gentle reminder for all of us to manage our fires carefully!!

Along with our fire readiness, our crews are hard at work on fuels reduction projects. That ranges from putting contracts together for some heavy equipment work on understory fuels (crush or remove the small conifers while leaving the big trees) or the crews are out preparing units for prescribed fire. Prescribed fire preparation generally means ensuring the control lines are in place around the burn unit plus ensuring all mitigation measures are in place.

Not all of our burn units are the big blowdown type, some are understory where we use low intensity fire to kill the smaller trees while saving the big trees. This can very effectively reduce the threat of wildfire while maintaining a healthy forest. We also have other units where we will conduct a burn after a harvest. The goal is to reduce the slash so the unit can be reforested. As always, before we burn anything, we’ll put out notices to let you know what we’re up to.

Spring is also the time for wildlife surveys. Part of our Forest Plan responsibilities is to ensure our management activities support local wildlife populations. To monitor that, we partner with the DNR and other agencies to conduct various surveys each year and since spring is generally the breeding season, it is the best time of year to complete the surveys. Our biologists often get up before dawn, or are out way past dark, to conduct the surveys during the time of day when the animals are most active. I believe one of our cooperative fisheries survey “days” ended about 2:00 in the morning. I’m still wondering why that biologist didn’t come in to work until later the following morning?

Maybe to close this blog I’ll mention our planned efforts. It seems they go on year round to ensure we’re prepared for all seasons. I spent this past Tuesday with our planning team in the woods near the Twin Lakes, looking at our next area where we might do some management. I’m always fascinated by what I see and the challenges of keeping our forest healthy while protecting the characteristics that are valuable to all of us. Much of our forest is over mature and the trees are dying. You can see this in the aspen and birch along highway 61 and the Gunflint Trail. Most of the older balsam fir is all ready dead and has fallen down. The forest will change whether we intervene with management actions or not. The challenge is for us to select activities that will move the forest in the best direction for the long run.

Twins Area

Twins Area

This is an example of the Twins area where the paper birch is very old, the balsam fir is laying on the ground and Kemo Lake is in the distant background.  Anything we consider doing here will be carefully planned and have public input.  I’ll keep you posted.
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