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.”

 

 

DNR seeks input on managing Mille Lacs fishery

Credit to Kirsti Marohn of MPR News for the article: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/07/16/dnr-seeks-input-on-mille-lacs-lake-management

Mille Lacs Lake

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is using acoustic telemetry technology to study the walleye population on Lake Mille Lacs. Researchers launched the study from Shah-bush-kung Bay in Vineland, Minn., in July 2018.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News 2018

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is gathering public input on its first management plan for Lake Mille Lacs.

About two dozen people gathered at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park Tuesday evening to hear about the lake’s changing fish population and share their opinions about how it should be managed.

DNR fisheries chief Tom Heinrich said the agency’s goal is to get input from anglers, business owners and others with an interest in the lake’s fishery. A draft plan is expected to be complete by this fall or winter.

It will be the first such management plan for Mille Lacs, which is co-managed by eight Ojibwe bands that retain fishing rights on the lake. The DNR has completed similar plans for other large Minnesota lakes.

The DNR sets the amount of fish anglers are permitted to harvest each year, using estimates of the number of fish in the lake. In recent years, anglers on Mille Lacs have faced tighter restrictions on when and whether they’re allowed to keep walleye they catch as the DNR has sought to boost the walleye population.

Heinrich said a management plan should help reduce surprise regulations.

“The types of management actions that we’re going to take on the lake are going to be much more predictable than they’ve been in the past,” he said. “Without any really clear guidance, we don’t really know how people want us to manage things.”

Heinrich said there are several factors behind the lake’s changing fishery. Among them is the fact that water clarity on the lake has improved over the past few decades. It began in the 1990s, likely due to sewage treatment improvements.

It happened again after zebra mussels infested the lake in 2005. Increased clarity is a problem for walleye, because the fish prefer low light and cooler water. But zebra mussels are filter feeders: They clear the water and strain out microscopic algae important to the food web.

Beyond walleye, which Mille Lacs has become known for, Heinrich said the lake’s smallmouth bass population has increased, and northern pike also remain plentiful. But yellow perch numbers are very low.

Heinrich said the management plan won’t just focus on the lake’s signature fish.

“We recognize that walleye are the big player on Mille Lacs Lake and probably always will be,” he said. “But this plan is really designed to give us some guidance in how we manage a variety of fish species.”

A similar community meeting was held last week in Brainerd, Minn. The DNR’s third and final meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Indian Mounds Regional Park pavilion in St. Paul.

People who can’t attend one of the meetings can fill out an online questionnaire on the DNR’s website.

 

Once-threatened peregrines flying high across Minnesota

Original article written by Euan Kerr at MPR News: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/07/11/peregrines-make-a-remarkable-comeback-in-minnesota

Two adult peregrine falcons pestered climbers Mark Mussell and Cody Benz as they prepared to rappel down the cliff at Shovel Point, near the birds’ nest in Tettegouche State Park. The birds flew by screeching, putting on high-speed aerobatic displays just feet from the climbers’ heads.

It was a remarkable sight, considering the peregrine was wiped out in Minnesota in 1964, a victim of widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II.

“In less than 20 years’ time they went from endangered to fully recovered,” said Jackie Fallon, vice chair of field operations for the Midwest Peregrine Society. “And there is no other endangered species program worldwide that has had that amount of success in such a short time period.”

Staff and volunteers at Tettegouche State Park, on Lake Superior’s north shore, just wrapped up their peregrine banding program.

That’s what Mussell and Benz were doing cliffside, temporarily kidnapping a pair of chicks to take them up top to Fallon who would attach bands that would allow them to be tracked over time.

Tettegouche’s interpretive naturalist Kurt Mead enjoys meeting each new batch of peregrine chicks. “It gives me goosebumps every time,” he said. “It does not get old.”

Last year Tettegouche celebrated the 30th anniversary of its first wild peregrine nesting post-recovery. This year there are two peregrine pairs nesting in the park, and possibly three, although Mead said no one had actually located that nest.

Peregrine falcons are the fastest moving living things on the planet. While hunting they can dive at 150 mph.

But they weren’t equipped to deal with DDT, which made its way up the food chain from bugs eaten by small birds, then to the falcons and eagles that consumed the smaller prey.

“It was a wonderful pesticide which did what it was supposed to,” Fallon said. But, “the eggshells became so thin that just the adult birds sitting on the eggs would cause the shells to crack and therefore the birds weren’t able to replace themselves.”

“So by the 1960s peregrines were completely extirpated east of the Mississippi,” she said.

The government banned DDT in 1972, and the next year peregrines made the endangered species list. In 1982 efforts began to reintroduce the peregrine on cliffs along the Mississippi.

In time organizers began releasing birds elsewhere around the state. They included downtown Minneapolis and St Paul, and on the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, all places where Fallon says the tall buildings mimicked cliff habitat.

“And then in 1987 we had our very first successful wild peregrine fledge off of City Center or Multifoods,” Fallon said.

That bird was banded as a chick and named Maude. She headed north to Canada and helped establish a new peregrine colony there.

Releases in northern Minnesota established birds here at Tettegouche, as well as at some iron ore pits in the area.

This is a busy time of year for Fallon, moving between nesting sites around the state, to count and band as many chicks as possible. She estimates between 120 to 135 baby peregrines have been produced this season.

The two newly banded chicks at Tettegouche should be flying off the cliffs and skimming the pristine waters of Lake Superior by the end of this month.

One of the climbers who rappelled down the cliff wore a GoPro video camera on his helmet. During the climb, the camera fell off and into Lake Superior. (See the end of the video to watch the plunge!)

“As soon as his head emerged above the ledge, I noticed the GoPro was gone,” wrote the camera’s owner, photographer Derek Montgomery in an email to MPR News. “Nervously I told myself ‘Don’t worry. He just put it in a bag on his side.’ But then when I approached him after he was topside, he went to retrieve the GoPro and when it wasn’t there the look on his face told me all I needed to know.”

Montgomery immediately thought to ask Christian Dalbec for help. Dalbec is a well-known underwater photographer, and Montgomery saw news reports that he had just reunited a couple with a camera and photos they lost off the Two Harbors breakwater three years ago.

Montgomery sent Dalbec a Facebook message and received a quick response: He would try to find the camera.

“So I went home hopeful it would be found, but not too confident because the lake is big and a GoPro is really tiny,” Montgomery said.

The next day, Dalbec took a boat to the area below the cliff where it was lost. He was able to find it sitting on a ledge about 18 feet down — a lucky break since if it had shifted a few more feet, it would have fallen to an area that was 80 feet deep.

“I was lucky on a lot of fronts that day and extremely thankful for Christian being willing to search for it on such short notice,” Montgomery said.

A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site.A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site July 1 as climbers retrieve two chicks from its nest at Tettegouche State Park near Silver Bay, Minn. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Volunteer climber Mark Mussell prepares to descend onto the cliffs.Volunteer climber Mark Mussell prepares to descend onto the cliffs at Tettegouche State Park while a sign warns visitors about a peregrine falcon nesting site in the area. Below Mussell is fellow climber Cody Benz, wearing the blue helmet. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Ropes supporting two climbers descend off the cliffs toward Lake Superior.Ropes supporting two climbers descend off the cliffs toward Lake Superior July 1 at Tettegouche State Park near Silver Bay, Minn. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Jackie Fallon applies a band to the leg of a peregrine falcon chick.Kurt Mead, interpretive naturalist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a peregrine falcon chick while Jackie Fallon, vice president of field operations with the Midwest Peregrine Society, applies a band to the chick’s leg. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site.A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site. Tettegouche State Park has been the site of up to three nesting pairs in any given year, which researchers say is significant. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Cody Benz lifts a black box containing two peregrine falcon chicks.Volunteer climber Cody Benz lifts a black box containing two peregrine falcon chicks. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Kurt Mead holds a chick while Jackie Fallon applies a band to its leg.Kurt Mead (left) holds a peregrine falcon chick while Jackie Fallon (right) applies a band to the chick’s leg. Bands cannot be applied if the chicks are younger than 14 days old and they try to avoid banding chicks older than 22 or 23 days old. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Erin Hall holds a rope for climbers Mark Mussell and Cody Benz.Erin Hall, a naturalist intern at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a rope for climbers Mark Mussell and Cody Benz (not pictured because they were on the cliffs). Derek Montgomery for MPR News

A sign warns visitors about a peregrine falcon nesting site in the area.Volunteer climber Cody Benz prepares to descend onto the cliffs at Tettegouche State Park while a sign warns visitors about a peregrine falcon nesting site. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Two peregrine falcon chicks rest on the ground after getting banded.Two peregrine falcon chicks rest on the ground after researchers placed bands on them. The banding is part of an ongoing effort to monitor the peregrine falcons, which had disappeared from the region by the mid 1960s due to the pesticide DDT. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Fourth of July Fireworks: Where to watch in Minnesota

Credit to Jiwon Choi of MPR News

Independence Day fireworks, San Diego.
Wherever you are around the state, you’re not far away from a patriotic pyrotechnic display for the Fourth of July. Jon Sullivan

Mpls. Park Board Commissioner looks to build taller in parks

Credit to Cathy Wurzer of MPR News: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/06/26/mpls-park-board-commissioner-looks-to-build-taller-in-parks

People walk and bike the trails of Lake Calhoun.People walk and bike the trails around Lake Calhoun, also known by its Dakota name Bde Maka Ska, meaning White Earth Lake, in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Evan Frost | MPR News

Affordable housing in the park? That’s one option Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Chris Meyer thinks should be on the table when rebuilding on the site of the Bde Maka Ska pavilion. The vintage 1930s building that used to house Lola on the Lake burned down last month, and was too damaged to be repaired.

“When we have a location so close to high quality public transit … it’s really a waste to build just a one story building,” Meyer said. “I put out housing as one option that we could consider. It’s certainly not the only one that we can consider.”

Meyer said he thinks a multi-level building on that site could house multiple restaurants, a coffee shop, or the sailing school that’s looking for space on the lake.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is an independent, elected body that runs the city’s vast park system. Typically they deal with things like recreation centers and bike trails, but Meyer says drawing revenue from housing and commercial space isn’t unprecedented for them.

“We have 99 year leases that we give to people who live on Nicollet Island. The superintendent of the park board also lives in a house in a park,” Meyer said.

The insurance money for the burned-down building isn’t enough to rebuild it exactly as it was, according to Meyer. If they did that, they would have to draw on funds that could be used for other things.

“If we were to add additional stories, that could help fund the entire project without diverting from other sources,” Meyer said, who added any addition revenue could be reinvested in other park projects.

The Bde Maka Ska location isn’t the only site Meyer is eyeing for future mixed-used development.

“All the attention went to Lola’s when I actually had brought up a different potentially much bigger project which would be at the Brian Coyle Rec Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood,” Meyer said. “That is another building that we’re looking to reconstruct in the near future and that could potentially be a mixed use building.”

Meyer said he wouldn’t want to build on green space. Rather, he wants to look at building taller structures on sites already developed, like parking lots and rec centers.