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.

May 5, 2009

Gunflint Greenup

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 7:47 am

 The weather was great for our second Gunflint Green up and a great time we had. There were about 350 volunteer planters  who put about 25,000 trees into the Ham Lake Fire area. This year was a story of kids and families in the woods making sure that the next generation of trees would be in place for the next generation of northwoods visitors.

A family of planters

A family of planters

I started the day at Chik Wauk, meeting with planters and coordinators.  Smiles and laughter abounded.  Chik Wauk was a pretty tough site and the sound of “chink” was pretty common as the planting bars all too often hit rock rather than soil deep enough to plant a tree.  As I made my way to the end of the Trail, then to Kek and onto Round Lake, the sounds of planting bars on rock were fairly common but so too were the sites and sounds of family laughter.


As planting day approached, I worried if we could top the success we had last year but as the day rolled on, I realized that this was a continuation of last year’s success.  The people of Minnesota, and surrounding states, were giving back to the Forest after the Ham Lake Fire changed the scenery. 


I shared some thoughts at the evening banquet that I would like to put here for those who were not present.  The Superior National Forest is celebrating our one hundredth anniversary, our centennial year.  President Theodore Roosevelt signed the act that created the Superior National Forest on February 12, 1909.  I know to many of you that seems like just yesterday but for our kids, it was “like” one hundred years ago! 


Just before becoming a National Forest, the Superior, like most of the upper Great Lakes, had been logged heavily.  In fact, the first Forest Supervisor noted that he thought his main job was to “get trees growing back there”.  Ironically as we celebrate our centennial, once again we’re planting a landscape to “get trees growing back there!”


There will be several events this summer where we bring historical information, share thoughts and photos of the last one hundred years.  If you havn’t seen these bits of our history, make it a point to stop and visit with us at one of the events (check the calendar on this blog for upcoming activities) or stop by the Gunflint office where you’ll find pieces of this display.


To share some other thoughts I’ve had recently, I gave a presentation the other day at our prescribed burn public meeting which included a list of natural events that has occurred on the Gunflint Trail over the past 40 years.  Now that is a timeframe where there may be a few people who have a perspective.  Back in the 60’s and 70’s we had a vibrant forest along the trail and life seemed pretty good.  It had been decades since anything very serious threatened the lives and homes along the trail.  Then came 1967 and the Hungry Jack Fire.  A few hundred acres in size, it crossed the Gunflint Trail.  I’m not sure people thought it was the beginning of things to come?  I’m not sure what people actually thought after that fire?


Over the next 40 years there were a total of at least 15 natural events that threatened the lives, homes, businesses and economy of the Gunflint Trail.  I’m sure not everyone was touched by each event, but I contend that you’d be hard-pressed to find another community that has been affected by so many difficult times.  I guess the amazing part is how this community responds in a crisis and  continues to move forward with their everyday lives.  Instead of packing and moving on, instead of bickering and finding fault, instead of withdrawing into a shell, the people of the Gunflint Trail celebrate!  You have created a day in the spring to invite neighbors and friends to come up, put some trees into the ground, run a half marathon and have a banquet (OK maybe two banquets)!


Which brings me back to our centennial celebration.  As I mentioned, the Superior will have several events this summer continuing to celebrate in the Cook County Community.  But what a most excellent place, time and group of people  to launch our celebration for the season; under the Big Top at the Gunflint Greenup with the Gunflint Trail Community!!



May 1, 2009

Here Goes!

Filed under: Natural Resources — SNFGRDennis @ 8:38 am

I have decided to start a blog for the Gunflint Ranger District.   My hopes are to share information with residents of Cook County as well as those who follow the things we’re doing up here. I will certainly welcome thoughts and comments on things we’re doing or general thought folks might have on National Forest Management. I only ask that comments are respectful.

This weekend we’re preparing for Gunflint Greenup, actually I guess I should say that preparations are complete and we’ll be celebrating Gunflint Greenup and looking forward to a little better weather than we had last year. Once again, I have nothing but high praise and thanks to the team who pulls this together. Our local paper covered the story, but I thought I’d repeat the exciting news that the Greenup committee was recognized both by our Regional Forester for an Honor Award and by the Minnesota Office of Tourism for a Sustainability Award. Way to go team!!

Another partnership that deserves mentioning is the Becoming a Boundary Waters Family program that was started last year by the Gunflint Trail Outfitters. This year we were able to form a partnership with the Outfitters where we can work together to invite our urban friends to come up and learn what the northwoods is all about. A series of workshops will be held at various locations where families can come and learn techniques of camping, outdoor cooking, canoeing and in general how to be comfortable visiting our National Forest. My greatest thanks goes to the Outfitters who came up with the idea and allowed the Gunflint Ranger District to be a part of this program.

I’m keeping this first blog somewhat short because the challenge of my schedule is pushing me to the next item that needs to be done. However with this entry blog, I want to welcome all who read and all who wish to share thoughts. I’ll do my best to keep the postings current on things we’re working on and items that you might be interested in knowing.