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NORTH ARM TRAILS

Timber harvest to proceed despite opposition

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/4/17

BURNTSIDE LAKE— A planned timber harvest opposed by neighbors on Burntside Lake’s North Arm will proceed, with ongoing input from stakeholders.

The plan includes thinning of …

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NORTH ARM TRAILS

Timber harvest to proceed despite opposition

Posted

BURNTSIDE LAKE— A planned timber harvest opposed by neighbors and camp owners on Burntside Lake’s North Arm will proceed, with ongoing input from stakeholders.

The plan includes thinning of red and white pine on about 62 acres of forest that foresters with the Department of Natural Resources say should be removed to help encourage the regeneration of younger pine. “We’re going with a variable density thinning,” said Dana Frame, head forester with the DNR’s Tower area office.

In total, foresters looked at 101 acres for possible harvest, but opted to thin on 62 acres while leaving the rest untouched. The sale is expected to yield about 500 cords of pine bolts and sawlogs, although the timber has not yet been sold.

While relatively small sales like this one don’t typically generate much controversy, the location of this particular cut, along a portion of a well-used hiking and cross-country ski trail system, has sparked more concern over the plan and its potential impact on the trail. Two YMCA camps on the North Arm, particularly Camp du Nord, as well as neighbors and others use the trail system extensively, year-round. The land in question is tucked up against the Boundary Waters wilderness on one side and federal land on the other and neighbors say the pine in question is of natural origin and is spectacular in its current state.

Greg Waibel, Chief Operating Officer of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, said the decision “has disappointed many of the local residents and those we serve.”

At the same time, Waibel said that his organization would participate in a stakeholders group that the DNR has promised to engage as the timber sale design moves forward. “We hope that there will be continued discussions on this topic to ensure that we are protecting the beautiful environment for today and tomorrow,” added Waibel.  “The YMCA is committed to environmental education and preserving outdoor classrooms that provide such educational and enriching, recreational experiences for all ages.”

The area in question has been thinned before, according to DNR public affairs officer Amykay Kerber. “Part of the beauty of the trail is that it has been thinned,” said Kerber, who said she’s a user herself of the popular trail system, located near Camp du Nord. “A lot of the unthinned areas are densely crowded with dead and dying balsam,” she said. The planned cut won’t affect any of the ancient “sentinel” white pine found in the area or any designated old growth, according to Kerber.

Jennifer Hengelfelt, whose family has had property in the area for decades, disputes some of the Kerber’s claims. She said the area slated for thinning is of natural origin, is showing significant pine reproduction. and hasn’t been subject to thinning before.

While Hengelfelt has been asked to serve on the stakeholders group, she’s non-committal at this point, saying she doesn’t want to be seen as supportive of the proposal, at least as currently envisioned. “I’m not buying the current plan, but I do want to give them a chance to come up with something that is really solid. And they should know that a lot of people are paying attention. There is an educated and concerned community that is very concerned about this.”

According to Hengelfelt, the thinning begins just north of the sentinel pines and encompasses popular sections of the trail, including the Troll’s Bridge and Thor’s Trail.

DNR officials say the thinning will have a number of benefits, including the reduction of fire danger and will allow the stand to start regenerating itself. While white pine is more shade tolerant than other pines, it grows better with more light. Red pine is generally difficult to regenerate without significant sunlight for the young trees, which typically isn’t available under a dense canopy of mature pine. Instead, shade tolerant species like balsam fir tend to fill in under the pine, where they can add to the fire danger.

In a natural environment, periodic fire tends to burn out those species more frequently, leaving the more fire resistant pine still standing. But because fire is quickly suppressed on most public lands these days, these other species generally have more time to fill in below pine stands and further block sunlight to young pines.

While pine will often naturally reseed themselves once the canopy is opened, the DNR plans to augment that with pine planting after the thinning is completed, according to Frame.

Exactly when the work might go forward isn’t clear. Kerber said the Tower foresters are still working on the final design of the harvest and that they’ll be working with local stakeholders, including a representative from Camp du Nord, to provide input on the placement of skid roads, the designation of leave trees, and other considerations. “The design will be done to try to minimize impact to trails,” said Kerber.

The timber likely won’t go to auction before December or January, and it remains uncertain whether a successful bidder will opt to begin the harvest this winter.

Harvest levels

The timber sale is being planned just as public concern has been heightened over a proposal being explored by the Dayton administration to increase harvest levels on state forests. As part of that, the DNR has significantly shortened rotation ages for planted pine in order to meet a demand for more softwood logs from industry.

But while the North Arm pine thinning will include some new pine planting, Frame said it won’t be subject to the same short rotation as with other pine timber. “This would never revert to short rotation,” he said.

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