DNR to talk with critics of Wildlife Management Area logging
Jan 12, 2020 06:35AM
● By Editor
From Staff Reports from the Grand Forks Herald - January 12, 2020
Top Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials will meet later this month with critics of the agency's plan to change timber cutting policy on state wildlife management areas.
DNR officials, including Commissioner Sarah Strommen, have agreed to the meeting with conservation groups upset over the DNR using WMAs as part of an effort to meet a new, statewide quota for state-land timber harvest.
A coalition of more than a dozen conservation and environmental groups — Izaak Walton League chapters, the National Wildlife Federation and Duluth-based United Northern Sportsmen’s Club — sent the DNR a letter Nov. 19 seeking a meeting with the agency and resolution of the issue.
“The hope is to get together and talk face-to-face and relay our thought process on this. There's some misconception out there on what is actually happening,” said Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division.
No date has been set, but the meeting is expected to occur in the next few weeks.
In addition to the private meeting, DNR officials have agreed to include state land forest management as one session during the agency's annual “Roundtable”' event scheduled for Friday, Jan. 24, in the Twin Cities. Olfelt said he expects the WMA logging issue to be raised at that session.
The issue surfaced in August when critics claimed the DNR’s new logging plan makes timber harvest for the state’s wood products industry the guiding force for logging on WMAs. That appears contrary to state and federal laws, which require that wildlife habitat and management be the only driver of timber harvest on WMAs. Federal grants are often used to purchase WMA land and critics have said the DNR’s logging plan violates federal rules on how the land must be managed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently auditing the DNR on use of federal funds designated wildlife management. That includes field audits in some state WMAs expected yet this month.
It’s not so much the amount of logging that critics are concerned about — logging is often good for species that depend on young forests — but the lack of lack of local control by wildlife managers over how, when, where and why the logging is done on WMAs.
The new DNR plan calls for wildlife management areas to produce 12% of a new quota of 870,000 cords of wood logged each year off all forested state land open to logging. The new quota was first announced by the DNR in 2018 following a year of scientific modeling of state-owned forested land and with input from both environmental groups and industry officials. The new plan is just now going into effect.
DNR officials ordered wildlife managers not to talk to the media about the issue. But in the letter to Strommen , signed by 28 wildlife managers, their concerns were clearly stated.
“Harvesting at this level of intensity jeopardizes long-term conservation of many wildlife species dependent on older forests for all or part of their life,” wrote Tower-area wildlife manager Tom Rusch in the letter to his boss.
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