Early in the “Disturbance in the woods” article in the Dec. 22 Outdoors section, representatives of various conservation groups were described as “campaigning” against Department of Natural Resources’ timber harvesting approaches that were approved in March 2018.
The reality is, those folks already did their campaigning. The new statewide timber-harvesting plan was created nearly two years ago with all stakeholders — including those now doing additional campaigning — participating in the process.
The DNR’s sustainable timber harvest analysis (STHA) included a year of rigorous scientific analysis and comments from more than 140 individuals and groups. That was followed by review and recommendations by a 14-person stakeholder group representing diverse interests in forestry, wildlife habitat, conservation impacts and the timber industry, including staff from the DNR divisions of Forestry, Fish and Wildlife, and Ecological and Water Resources.
One of those quoted in the news story said the system was set up to “feed the timber industry” with harvest levels of 870,000 cords per year. In fact, the STHA process revealed that the state could sustainably harvest more than 1 million cords annually from state land for 15 years, due to the amount of over-aged forest.
While the final number of cords allowed was well below what the industry sought, everyone compromised for the greater good. The process worked.
Minnesotans should be comforted knowing that we’re surrounded by a more balanced forest than ever. According to the USDA Forest Service, the acres of aspen over 70 years old statewide is 2.3 times higher than it was in 1977. Minnesota has 20 million more large trees (19 inches or more in diameter) than it had 60 years ago. Only 1% of Minnesota’s forestland is harvested each year, and more than three times as much wood is grown each year to replace it.
The DNR administers nearly 5 million acres of forestland, half of which — by law or policy — will never see a logging truck. State parks, Scientific Natural Areas, designated old-growth and other buffer areas provide 2.3 million acres of older forests for fishers and associated species, deer thermal cover and other values. Similar set-aside lands in national forests, county lands and national parks amount to another 2 million acres.
Wildlife management areas (WMAs) are included in the 2.7 million acres of state land available for timber harvest, and rightly so. Young forests and openings provide prime habitat for game species like ruffed grouse, woodcock, deer, and turkey. Under STHA, there is also old forest — 24% of aspen on state land is managed for longer rotation age and another 6% will remain unharvested. Much of this is on or near WMAs.
One of the many positive outcomes of a statewide Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) on Timber Harvesting and Forest Management, and the subsequent Sustainable Forest Resources Act, was the creation of voluntary site-level forest management guidelines, which established practices to protect and enhance forest values. Natural buffer areas between waterways and logging, called riparian management zones, help maintain clean rivers, streams and lakes. There are safeguards to protect soil productivity and erosion, maintain visual areas, preserve biodiversity and protect cultural resources.
Your computer paper, 2-by-4s, oriented strand board, siding, utility poles and thousands of other products — yes, thousands — all come from forests. Responsible and sustainable forest management benefits hunters, hikers, loggers, bird watchers, berry pickers, wildlife and consumers around the world.
All this while supporting rural economies and providing good-paying jobs for 32,000 women and men in the forest products industry who supply the products each of us use every day.
The Minnesota forest products industry does not dictate how public lands are managed. That occurs in a public process. But we do stand ready as partners to help achieve the many outcomes the public desires from forests, like managing native ecosystems; addressing insect, disease, blowdown and fire risks; providing habitat for all forest wildlife; and sequestering carbon to address climate change.
At the 30th annual DNR roundtable in late January, many of the same stakeholders who helped develop the sustainable timber harvest analysis will gather to share new ideas for doing things better. We in the forest products industry are looking forward to once again being part of the discussion.
Rick Horton is a wildlife biologist working for Minnesota Forest Industries, representing paper mills, sawmills and other companies. Ray Higgins represents the Minnesota Timber Producers Association, an association of loggers, truckers and allied businesses.