On the North Shore, many hands work to help a dying forest

Credit to Cody Nelson of MPR News for the original article: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/07/25/north-shore-forest-restoration-white-pine

From bugs to invasive species to hotter temps, a host of factors are laying waste to Minnesota’s northeastern forests.

Emily Krulc, center, and her Minnesota Conservation Corps crew take a lunch break.

Emily Krulc, center, and her Minnesota Conservation Corps crew take a lunch break while planting white pine seedlings in the Moose Creek area near Schroeder, Minn., on June 24.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Northern Minnesota once boasted stands of massive white and red pine — giants that lived up to 350 years, with trunks 4 or 5 feet in diameter.

When they were logged out, trees with shorter life spans, like birch, took their place. Now, those trees are dying off.

What’s the answer? For now, it’s plant more trees.

“There’s so much destruction,” said Emily Krulc as she and her Minnesota Conservation Corps team planted white pine seedlings on a recent, wet day in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. “How can we find a balance between our needs, human needs, and also still caring for the lands that essentially [are] going to be what sustains us?”

White gloves hold a tiny pine tree.

A Minnesota Conservation Corps member loosens the dirt from a white pine seedling before planting it in the Moose Creek watershed near Schroeder.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Efforts to restore Minnesota’s iconic forests face numerous obstacles — from invasive species competing for space to deer eating tree seedlings before they get a chance to grow. But they’re crucial to the Arrowhead region’s ability to continue providing environmental and economic benefits for decades to come.

Planting is the painstaking, unheralded work that will give the forests a chance.

‘We have to get out there and make it happen’

Krulc and her team descended on a football field-sized patch of forestland west of Schroeder, Minn., to plant 350 tree seedlings — mostly white pine — one morning last month.

Using planter bars and chainsaws to clear out any undesired growth, they planted a tree every 10 to 12 feet. Figuring out exactly where to plant a tree is something of a guessing game.

“Humans don’t always know where trees want to go,” Krulc said, “so we’re kind of doing our best to guess you know where these white pines might like to grow and getting them in the ground.”

Sometimes it works best to plant a baby tree among fallen branches lying on the ground, she said. Other times, trees just go where the soil is soft enough to get them in the ground.

When the seedlings get a little older, workers plan to install fencing around the tree or attach bud caps, paper stapled over the top of the tree. These measures protect the young trees from hungry deer.

The Conservation Corps crew was working on land owned by the Rajala Woods Foundation, a nonprofit established by the electrical utility Minnesota Power.

A creek and a foggy forest in the background.

Water flows down Moose Creek near Schroeder. Twelve-hundred acres along Moose Creek are owned by the Rajala Woods Foundation.
Evan Frost | MPR News

This 1,200-acre plot sits along Moose Creek, about a 30-minute drive inland from Lake Superior. The landscape is a thick, relatively young forest. Utility towers stand out above the trees, slinging wires above the trees.

“If you look around, you’re challenged to see any white pine or red pine or jack pine,” said Kurt Anderson, the foundation’s chair.

Anderson’s job is to change that. Rajala Woods is in the early stages of a project to plant 3 million white pine and other trees with long lifespans in forests in central and northeastern Minnesota.

A blonde man with a bear and a hat looks right out of frame.

Kurt Anderson of the Rajala Woods Foundation, left, watches a trout feed in Moose Creek.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Its namesake, Jack Rajala, was a white pine advocate who planted some 3 million trees in his own lifetime. He also made his living from the timber industry that was responsible for cutting most of the trees in the first place.

Logging of the huge white pine began in Minnesota in the mid-19th century.

Many white and red pine were harvested and sent to market in the following decades. “At that time the forest supply of these long-lived tree species seemed inexhaustible. And that obviously wasn’t the case,” Anderson said.

Some major wildfires and droughts took a toll on the woods, too.

As the forest grew back, it was different. Birch and other trees with shorter life spans, like aspen and balsam fir, became abundant. Long-lived pines, more scarce.

Anderson said people realized white pine preservation and restoration needed attention as early as the 1920s. But early efforts to restore white pine backfired.

“White pine was brought over to Europe to grow in some nurseries to bring back over here,” Anderson said, “and during that overseas trip, blister rust was introduced to white pine.”

Blister rust, a fungus that can infect and kill white pine, became a veritable enemy. So did a growing population of whitetail deer, which found an ideal habitat in forests that had been cleared out by logging.

Modern forest restorers have learned from past mistakes. In 1997, Rajala published a guidebook for how he believed restoration should happen.

“If we want to bring [the white pine] back, we have to do far more than wait for it to just happen —we have to get out there and make it happen,” Rajala wrote in “Bringing Back the White Pine.”

A car with a canoe on top drives past a tall tree.

A large white pine stands over Highway 61 on the North Shore on June 25.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Today, Anderson said, the short-lived tree species are reaching the end of their lifespan. That explains the declining birch stands along Lake Superior.

As this continues, he said a worst-case scenario means an unrecognizable forest.

“You end up with a scrubland, a brush scrubland that doesn’t provide a lot of ecological benefit. It doesn’t provide a lot of economic benefit,” Anderson said. “There’s not much timber there to harvest, it doesn’t host a lot of wildlife habitat.”

Some scientists have projected a savanna-like habitat in northeast Minnesota’s Arrowhead region.

Jim Manolis, forest conservation program director at The Nature Conservancy, said a “perfect storm of factors” are leading to this dying forest — from bugs to invasive species to hotter temperatures to the deer.

“Forests along the North Shore are dying,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say there’s hundreds of thousands of acres that are in poor condition and need some help.”

While there’s no measurement on exactly how much forest is dying or at risk, Manolis said, the Nature Conservancy is working on a comprehensive map using lidar and other data sources.

Forest advocates say there’s hope for the white pine, but not without a lot of human intervention.

“We have to be a little smarter as a society about trying to think out not just 50 years in advance,” Anderson said, “but maybe 150 years in advance.”

This forward thinking would prime the forest to withstand climate change and economic changes. It’d also make it a continued haven for nature lovers, and the creatures that keep them coming back.

‘You can feel the age of a forest’

A man is seen standing in water through dense brush.
Shawn Perich prepares to fly fish in a creek off of the Gunflint Trail near Grand Marais, Minn. on June 25.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Shawn Perich caught his first brook trout at age 4 and was instantly hooked on fishing.

When he’s fly-fishing, Perich switches off the outside world.

“There’s really nothing else going on for me except being here in the river and feeling the current wrapping around me as I wade in the stream,” he said, “and just being entirely focused on where I’m placing that fly and whether I can get a fish to strike.”

Perich has fished for trout across North America, he said, but he always finds himself drawn back to the North Shore.

He lives with his dog, Rainy, in Hovland, Minn., and works as a publisher of Northern Wilds magazine.

He caught two brook trout in as many casts one recent morning. Then he pulled in several more of the color-spotted golden fish, releasing each back to the stream.

“They’re so pretty, it’s just hard to keep ‘em,” he said after pulling in a fish.

A fish with a hook in its mouth leaps out of the water.

A brook trout leaps out of the water after biting a fly in a creek down the Gunflint Trail near Grand Marais.
Evan Frost | MPR News

A seasoned angler, Perich knows what makes a good home for brook trout.

For one, they need cool water — he said one brook felt like an “ice cube” once out of the stream. And that cool water comes from shade.

Tall, old trees like the white pine can provide shade for these Lake Superior tributaries their entire length through the forest.

Being in a stand of white pine that could be centuries old feels different, Perich said. And indescribable.

“That’s a hard thing to put into words, really,” he said. “But you can feel the age of a forest. When you walk into a standard white pine you can tell you’re in a special place.”

Tiny scissors cut fishing line off of a fly lure.

Perich ties a fly onto his line while fishing.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Perich recognizes the forest will never return to how it was before Europeans arrived. It’s critical that forest restoration efforts continue to look forward, he said.

Even if current restoration projects succeed, the forest won’t be what it used to be. But, planners hope, it’ll be a diverse, healthy forest that’s more resistant to climate change and one that resembles the nature Minnesotans cherish.

“The land was here before us, the land will probably be here after us. And we have to work with nature,” Perich said. “And nature itself really hasn’t changed that much over that period of time.

“And if we can continue to perpetuate what’s here, what’s supposed to be here, I don’t know if there’s anything better we can do.”

 

 

Adventure & Relax on a Minnesota Camping Trip

Credit to Erica Wachker of ExploreMinnesota.com: https://www.exploreminnesota.com/travel-ideas/reconnect-on-a-camping-trip/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Camping with dogs in Superior National ForestCamping in the Superior National Forest / Alyssa Hei

Relaxation, adventure, escape, and quality time with family and friends are among the many reasons why camping is a beloved Minnesota pastime. Whether you’re ready to take on the Boundary Waters or prefer the comforts of an RV, a Minnesota camping trip will surely be one to remember.

BOUNDARY WATERS & BACKPACKING

View from a boundary waters bluff

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness / Gary Hamer

 

Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a badge of honor. There are no roads, buildings, motorboats, and definitely no cell phone service. The only mode of transportation is via canoe, with more than 1,500 miles of waterways to explore. When it’s time to set up camp, simply paddle to an open campsite and pitch your tent. Every campsite is private, so you’ll have a little piece of the wilderness all to yourselves.

Adjacent to the Boundary Waters, the Superior National Forest has a wide range of camping options, from primitive “dispersed camping” sites up to drive-in sites complete with bathhouses and electric hookups. Also in this picturesque part of the state, the Superior Hiking Trail covers nearly 300 miles of rugged terrain above the North Shore of Lake Superior, with more than 90 campsites along the way.

Lake Maria State Park camping backpacking

Backpacking at Lake Maria State Park

Another backpacking hot spot is Crosby Manitou State Park on the North Shore near Silver Bay, where challenging trails are flanked with spectacular views of waterfalls and forests. The secluded campsites are for backpackers only (though you may have to share them with moose, deer and other wildlife).

Similar camping experiences can be found in the northwest part of the state, in the Chippewa National Forest and along the North Country National Scenic Trail, which travels 800 miles across the northern half of Minnesota with multiple segments that stretch from the North Dakota border all the way to the Superior Hiking Trail.

Backpacking opportunities even exist near the Minneapolis-St. Paul area at AftonLake Maria and St. Croix state parks. Several state parks also have “walk-in” (less than half a mile) sites, with carts available to haul your gear in some cases.

CAMPGROUNDS & RV PARKS

Airstream Mille Lacs Mali Mish

Airstream at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park / Mali Mish Family

If you’re looking for a more laid back and family-friendly camping experience, Minnesota has about 500 privately operated campgrounds, most of which are on a lake or river, with sites for RVs as well as tents. Many are at resorts that also rent cabins and other indoor lodging.

These campgrounds usually feature an array of amenities, such as pools, playgrounds, game rooms, entertainment, boat rentals, Wi-Fi, and on-site laundry, groceries and restaurants. Many offer family-friendly activities like bonfires and other fun that make them a great choice for groups of all ages.

Many of Minnesota’s most scenic spots have been preserved as state parks, and most of the 75 parks and recreation areas have campgrounds with tent and RV sites. The settings range from forest to prairie; scenic hiking trails and access to a lake or river are among the highlights at these popular parks.

Camper cabin at Afton State Park

Camper cabin at Afton State Park / Kirsten Alana

Several state parks and some private campgrounds also rent camper cabins, an appealing alternative for those who don’t want to sleep in a tent. The majority have electricity and heat and can sleep up to six people. But without their own restrooms or running water, you can still say that you’re roughing it.

City and county campgrounds are another good option; in-town campgrounds are usually near shops, restaurants and attractions. If you don’t have your own camping equipment, various outfitters offer rentals of everything from tents and pop-up campers to top-of-the-line motorhomes complete with kitchens and master suites.