I sometimes get questions that ask what we’re doing in the winter time, is it a slow time for us, do we let a lot of people go, etc? So here is a little picture of what is going on in our world.
We have been working on an analysis of potential sound impacts that would be created from the proposed routes for South Fowl Snowmobile Trail. You may remember a few years ago that a trail was discovered that crossed a corner of the Wilderness and since I had to close that, I thought it the correct thing to do was replace it. You may also remember some of the controversy surrounding the proposed trail routes, the fact that we were taken to court and the judgement of the court ordered and Environmental Impact Statement with an analysis of the noise impacts that might come from the alternative routes. Now that we’re passed the appeals court stage, we have a contract ongoing to prepare the EIS and that will include the results of the sound study. Look for a draft EIS in the not too distant future.
In order to implement our Forest Plan we do a few thousand acres of vegetation management each year. We touch about .5% of the Superior National Forest each year and that includes habitat management for wildlife species, fuels treatments to take steps to abate the threats of wildfire, silvicultural treatments to help maintain a healthy forest and timber sales to make forest products available for paper and wood products. It takes about three years for each project to get from concept to implementation. The first year is inventory and data collection, the second is analysis, public involvement and preparing environmental documents adn the third year is spent in the woods doing what we call preparation (that includes putting in project boundaries, designating or marking the trees to be either cut or reserved, assembling contract specifications, putting those into a contract and offering that for bid. Each of those steps is going on simultaneously for different projects.
We have people conducting inventory in the Greenwood Lake area, our next landscape project. Our planning specialists are working on the project in the Twins Lake area. We have asked for public input on that project and I have met with some of the land owners around Twin and Kemo Lakes to ensure we understand their concerns. We’re getting habitat and fuels projects ready for contract north of the Devil Track Lake area and in the vicinity of Caribou Lake.
Our fire folks are getting mechanical fuels reduction projects ready for contract and will soon be inspecting ongoing contracts. Others are preparing prescribed burn plans that will meet both fuels reduction and wildlife habitat prescriptions. We also have a couple guys in a specialized Technical Fire Management course to ensure we’re preparing for the future.
Our engineering staff is doing some design work on bridges that need to be replaced. They are also preparing for a season of road maintanence, culvert replacement and ensureing a supply of gravel for future use.
Our wildlife staff, along with the vegetationplanning they do, are cooperating with the DNR on winter wildlife surveys.
Our silvicultural team is about to start the last contract that will be done with our Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Grant. Those trees that were killed by the Ham Lake Fire that pose a threat to fall on the Gunflint Trail will be cleared and removed to a borrow pit. They participate in the vegetation planning but are also gearing up for the upcoming planting season (we planted nearly one million trees following the Ham Lake Fire).
Most of our wilderness employees are employed elsewhere during the winter, but we do have some come back and do some patroling and planning during this time of year. One of the great partnerships we’ve forged over the past couple years is with the Cook County Snowmobile Club who also helps us monitor with wilderness. Their educational efforts have been going on for years and now the countless hours spent partnering with us helps keep the wilderness wild, a truly great collaboration.
Speaking of partnerships, we are so very fortunate to have a great community to work with in Cook County. We have partners helping on all our ski trails, snowmobile trails, and hiking trails. The Gunflint Trail Association is a partner on with the Scenic Byway Committee for projects along the Gunflint, the Gunflint Greenup Committee with our planting effort, the Outfiitters Association and our “Becoming a Boundary Waters Family” educational effort and has spawned the Gunflint Trail Historical Society who developing and will manage the Chik Wauk History and Nature Museum.
We have too many partners to mention in our Community Wildfire Protection Program, our local emergency management planning committee, our firewise program, our invasive species program and (I know I’m forgetting some partnerships) our wildlife monitoring and educational programs. It seems to me that with the people in this County and the efforts we’ve all begun, this County could quickly become the model for communities working together to solve problems.
I think I transitioned from what we are doing to what we can do, but that is sometimes how I think. Thanks for letting me work in this County!