New director of forestry takes hands-on approach

By Tim
Spielman

Associate Editor

Duluth, Minn. – If there’s one thing Minnesota’s DNR Forestry
director in waiting knows about his new position, it’s that he’ll
spend as much time as possible in the field, amid those carrying
out the division’s missions.

“I want to get out in the woods with the rest of the crew,” said
Dave Epperly, 49, the current St. Louis County Land Department
commissioner who begins as DNR Forestry director Nov. 1. “I have a
‘mud on the boots’ mentality.”

While some of the details of his new position will be learned as
he eases into it, Epperly said he knows that a large part of
managing the state’s forests will be working with other DNR
departments; an integrated approach is necessary, especially when
it comes to issues such as hunting and use of off-highway
vehicles.

“There must be an integrated approach to managing the resource,”
he said.

According to the DNR, forests cover about one-third of the
state. There are 58 state forests that encompass about 4 million
acres, and the state forest system is more than 100 years old.
Besides providing the state income via timber sales, the forests
are prime playgrounds for hunters, ATVers, anglers, and others who
enjoy outdoor activities. Balancing those interests is often the
emphasis for forestry officials.

When it comes to forests, hunters’ primary interest – besides
deer – is grouse.

“Grouse is a premier species that’s hunted in Minnesota,”
Epperly said. “Forestry and wildlife managers must come up with an
integrated plan (to manage for the species).”

Grousers say aspen management and clear-cutting are integral
parts of forest plans, as ruffed grouse prefer young forests.

Epperly, who’s lived and worked across the three heavily wooded
states that border Lake Superior, said he’s an active angler and
hunter.

Permanent treestand use on public land has been a debated issue
for both counties in Minnesota and the state DNR. In St. Louis
County, where Epperly has been the land commissioner for the past
six years, the county has taken, for the most part, a hands-off
approach.

For the state, “it’s going to be an ongoing issue of
importance,” he said. “It’s one hunters are concerned about. People
must be able to protect the resource, but they must be able to use
it, as well.”

In St. Louis County, he said, county officials “encourage people
to use stands that are removable and don’t damage trees.”

St. Louis County-managed land recently has generated about $4.5
million annually in timber sales, Epperly said. Cabin leases and
shoreline leases on other county land bring in additional revenue.
The varied interest in county lands has helped him appreciate the
need to balance the quality timber base with maintaining quality
habitat, Epperly said.

Epperly said OHV use in state forests will continue to be
debated. He expects to work closely with the DNR Trails and
Waterways Division with the ongoing forest inventory that will help
determine where OHV use may continue or may be restricted.

He said the inventory is not only good for OHV purposes, but
will provide managers other information that will prove valuable in
the future.

Most public officials believe the OHV issue will continue to
draw interest from the state Legislature, which this year voted to
divide the state into two parts with differing rules for OHVs. More
freedom was granted OHV operators north of Hwy. 2, the portion of
the state dominated by forest land.

Rick Horton, Ruffed Grouse Society forest wildlife biologist in
Grand Rapids, said he’s worked with Epperly while Epperly has been
employed by St. Louis County. Horton also worked with Epperly when
Epperly was a Douglas County, Wis., employee.

“He understands the connection between forest management and
game management,” Horton said. “He’s been a supporter of habitat
management.”

Horton said he believes state forest managers are doing a good
job managing for ruffed grouse habitat, but he sees signs of a
desire to move away from grouse management (aspen) and
clear-cutting.

Come November, Epperly will replace acting Forestry director Bob
Tomlinson, who will become the assistant forestry director.

Categories: Hunting News

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