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Stronger Together: the North Shore Forest Collaborative Promotes Education and Stewardship Activities Along the North Shore

Jun 10, 2024 09:59AM ● By Content Editor

Natural regeneration of cedar and white pine requires mature seed trees on the landscape. All photos provided. 

From the North Shore Forest Collaborative - June 10, 2024

By Kelly Beaster, NSFC Coordinator

It’s springtime again in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. The nights threaten frost and often deliver, but the strong gaze of the sun coaxes the ephemerals out of the rich soil. Between snow melt, spring rains, and those cold evening temperatures, not to mention the trees just beginning to rouse from their winter dormancy, makes this season the ideal time to plant trees in the northwoods. And that’s just what our North Shore Forest Collaborative (NSFC) partners are busy doing throughout northern Minnesota. 

The NSFC focuses on the rugged strip of land adjacent to Lake Superior that harbors Minnesota’s unique coastal forest. Here, the bedrock is often exposed or covered by a very thin layer of nutrient-poor soil. Lake Superior’s annual temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit frequently acts as a natural air conditioner in summers, providing cooler temps and often accompanied by fog and mist as that wall of cool air hits the warmer bank of inland air. This same water body moderates the winter's nearshore, naturally warming winters and increasing lake effect snow beside the great water body. It takes a hearty bunch of species to tolerate this climate and region, influencing the collection of species and their frequency on the landscape compared to elsewhere in northern Minnesota. Because of this, much care is taken as to which species are selected for planting on the public and private forest lands that we all cherish. In addition to the rather inhospitable environment, logging followed by devastating wildfires drastically altered the forests, leaving behind a legacy of short-lived, pioneering species like aspen, balsam poplar, and paper birch. Furthermore, white-tailed deer that favor forest edges, migrated north into the newly cleared land, feeding on the tender new growth of cedar, pine, oak, birch, and maple seedlings. What remained was a predominantly short-lived forest with pockets of graceful cedars, yellow birch, and white pine, especially beside the tumbling waterfalls where deer, logging, and fires were less frequent.

Today, the North Shore Forest Collaborative (NSFC) seeks to revitalize and maintain a healthy and functioning ecosystem along Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior with an emphasis on restoring and maintaining native trees and associated forest communities. A grassroots group of representatives from local, state, federal, and tribal agencies as well as private organizations and landowners came together in 2011 to acknowledge the necessity of establishing a collective effort to work toward accomplishing the reforestation of the North Shore. The NSFC is now giving careful thought to new strategies that can enhance climate resilience in the coastal forest as it faces threats like increasing storm intensity, prolonged periods of drought, and individual species’ tolerance levels to changing average temperatures.

 White pine caged and bud capped to protect from deer browse.

Private landowners make up a significant holding of land within the coastal forest, and their participation can help improve the health and resiliency of the forests for centuries to come. Since past logging, landowners have been planting and nurturing trees along the shoreline in response to the short-lived and declining birch, balsam poplar, aspen, white pine blister rust, and now the impacts from spruce budworm. Collectively, these smaller projects make a huge impact, connecting smaller patches of forest to larger, more intact forest communities, which create wildlife corridors. Planting a diverse forest with collections of coastal appropriate species such as eastern white pine, northern white cedar, yellow birch, white spruce, american elm, basswood, red and bur oak, and sugar maple, incorporates resilience against species-level impacts. 

On a dripping Saturday with sunlight breaking through rain clouds, the cedar and white pine can be seen along the Knife River hiking trail. Younger white pine and cedar seedlings and saplings can be observed in tree cages or with white square bud caps growing further away from the river in the declining aspen and birch forest. The cages and bud caps protect them from deer browse until their leading growth is out of reach of their wet noses, which with snow can sometimes be as high as 12 feet tall. These species were selected to grow here based on several factors, the main evidence being appropriate site conditions to support these species and the mature adult cedar and white pine present. Secondly, they were selected based on the future objectives for this site, including forest health and the ecosystem services provided by mixed conifer forests.

 With deer on the landscape, little can survive besides aspen, balsam fir, and spruce.

This up-and-coming forest ecosystem will not only provide more desirable hiking with breezes that blow through the soft white pine boughs for the public, but their deep roots will keep stormwater on the landscape for longer. This water will be absorbed into the soil before entering the Knife River as cold groundwater, keeping the water cool for important fish and macroinvertebrate populations. The shade of these conifers will keep snow on the ground longer into the spring, lengthening the snowmelt and lowering peak spring flows. These ecosystem improvements along the Knife River have become possible through the hard work of a dedicated partnership that spans public and private organizations, including the Knife River Recreation Council, Advocates of the Knife River Watershed, St. Louis and Lake Counties, the Department of Natural Resources, the Lake Superior Steelhead Association, and private landowners. 

All along the North Shore, NSFC partners plant thousands of trees each year on public and private land within the coastal forest. Landowners have been making significant impacts through their own stewardship projects but could do even more. Whether you have participated in the past, worked independently on reforestation, or this is the first time hearing about the NSFC, several opportunities are available for landowners to explore their options and learn more about what the NSFC has to offer them:

  • Join us at Wolf Ridge on Tuesday, June 11 from 10-2 to learn from the US Forest Service about ways to mitigate climate change, explore a Nature Conservancy planting project, and hear from a panel of our NSFC partners on what services they provide. Admission is free. Register at Snacks will be provided, but please bring a lunch.

  • Through a Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota’s Resources (LCCMR) grant, the NSFC is offering FREE 1-hour site visits to landowners within 3-5 miles or less of the Lake Superior shoreline. Here landowners can learn about invasive species, the coastal forest, and its tree species, and receive site-specific recommendations for projects. 

  • To learn about how to manage spruce budworm or invasive species, which species are appropriate and how to select them for your site, how to get help from NSFC partners, and more, visit under the Landowner Resources Materials page to peruse the educational materials created through an LCCMR grant. 

  • Join our mailing list to hear the latest news about how to get discounted fencing, where to get tree seedlings, and what new opportunities may be available at

Be a part of this collaborative effort to re-establish the long-lived forests of the North Shore!

 A more diverse forest such as this includes longer-lived species like white cedar, yellow birch, and white pine, with shorter-lived species such as aspen and balsam fir in pockets where more sunlight is available.

Funding for the public meeting is provided using Federal funds under award CFDA number 11.419 from the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended, administered by the Office for Coastal Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce provided to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program.

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