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.