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.