Garber presents vision for state forests to committee

St. Paul What should Minnesota’s forests look like in five
years, 50 years, or even 100 years?

Interested parties will tackle that question at a May summit
scheduled to happen amid the aspen, pines, and other trees of a
“demonstration forest” being planned by the DNR.

The 35,000- to 40,000-acre chunk of land eventually will be
transformed into a highly managed, staggered growth forest like the
ones in Finland to see if it could work on a larger scale here.

“We’re after an atmosphere where there aren’t winners and
losers,” DNR Commissioner Allen Garber told members of the House
Environment and Natural Resources Committee last week.
Environmental and timber groups long have clashed over how best to
manage a resource that is one of Minnesota’s most valuable.

The demonstration forest will be located somewhere in
northeastern Minnesota and will use more selective cutting and more
frequent harvesting in hopes of yielding a profitable lumber
industry and harmony between the two sides of the forestry
debate.

Adopting the Finland model would mean dropping the clear-cutting
that has in many places produced aspen-dominated forests in
Minnesota.

In its place would be a management process that would thin
forests for ideal timber production and sustainability, while still
benefiting recreation and wildlife habitat.

“I am very much intrigued by your proposal,” Rep. Larry Howes
told Garber. “I am also a little cautious. When we start to manage,
sometimes it doesn’t always go the way we want it to.”

Howes, R-Hackensack, is an avid hunter and said he specifically
avoids hunting in “managed” forests because he doesn’t often see
animals there.

“You see abundant wildlife come into a clear cut,” he said. “Cut
it and they will come.”

Other lawmakers had similar concerns about how the forest would
be managed, what types of trees would grow there and what this
would mean to small timber companies that had invested large
amounts of money in equipment made to handle aspen trees.

“This is a demonstration,” Garber said. “This is not a slam-dunk
decision.”

If it is successful, individual landowners could start emulating
it soon. It would take much longer to put such a practice into
place on state lands, he said.

Minnesota is home to a host of tree types, including old cedars,
red and white pines, and spruce. But those have dwindled in number
over the years due to logging and wildfires. Aspen and birch have
moved in to take their place.

Garber said that it was safe to assume there would always be
aspen forests in Minnesota. The question was how much of the
state’s total forest land should be aspen as opposed to other
trees.

Finland produces 25 percent of the world’s paper and wood
products and utilizes selective cutting and more frequent
harvesting methods. Garber and two other DNR employees visited the
nation and toured its forests in September.

Rep. Mark Holsten, R-Stillwater, said it was necessary to look
beyond the demonstration forest to what might happen on a larger
scale before the experiment got too far along.

“I think it’s safe to say this is going to change the face of
forestry in northern Minnesota,” he said.

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