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DNR searching for seed pickers to help maintain Minnesota's forests

Aug 18, 2019 01:42PM ● By Editor
A Minnesota Conservation Corps member loosens the dirt from a white pine seedling before planting it in the Moose Creek watershed near Schroeder, Minn., on June 24, 2019.  Photo:  Evan Frost | MPR News

By Dan Gunderson of Minnesota Public Radio News - August 18, 2019

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources needs people to do the work of squirrels.

Every year the DNR nursery grows between three and six million trees, so they need a lot of seeds from all kinds of conifers and deciduous trees — and they need people to collect those seeds.

"We've had folks that have been picking for years and years and years and years that are now getting into their retirement age where they're no longer interested in doing it, and we're struggling to find individuals that are willing and interested to go out and collect,” said nursery supervisor Kristina Somes.

Last year about 165 people gathered seeds across the state. Each year pickers collect thousands of bushels of pine cones, acorns and other tree seeds.

"White pine are the largest cone and we pay $20 a bushel. You can get a bushel of white pine relatively quickly because they are so large," explained Somes. "The most expensive that we pay for is the tamarack cones because they are so small. Those are $150 a bushel." 

Somes says tamarack trees need to be cut down to collect seed, because the cones are near the top of the tree and the unopened cones don’t readily fall off like pine cones.

Seasonal workers
Seasonal workers at a state tree nursery examine red pines, selecting the strongest and healthiest and assembling them in bundles of 25 in October 2011.  Photo:  Stephanie Hemphill | MPR News 2011

Successful pickers often have tricks to expedite collection, including enlisting subcontractors with long bushy tails.

"They might know where the squirrels are storing their cones for the winter and they'll go rob the squirrel caches and then leave behind something else for the squirrels to have, to get them through the winter, so that way their subcontracted pickers come back the next year," Somes said with a laugh.   

Many tree seeds remain viable for a couple of years, but Somes said if the trend of losing veteran pickers continues, the forestry program might lose some of the genetic diversity that comes from having seeds collected in many areas, and it might become more expensive to run the tree nursery.

She’s hopeful a new generation will taken an interest in seed collection.

"It's such a great opportunity for school groups or Boy Scout groups or groups that might be interested in natural resource to do a fundraising-type project,” said Somes. "It can benefit both the group as well as the the state reforestation effort."

Anyone interested in collecting seeds needs to register with their local DNR forestry office.

To read thee original article and see sealed stories, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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