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