KELLOGG, MINN. – Nicki Costello sees stacks of pine logs and piles of pine slash as a destroyed landscape, unwelcome for wildlife, an ugly scarring of the Sand Prairie area where she moved a few months ago because of its beauty.
Mary Stefanski sees the logs and slash as a way to make the 30 acres on Upper Sand Prairie look as it did 150 years ago, a land going back to its roots with different kinds of habitat.
The two views of the same scene are part of a collision of visions at the end of a long road near where the Zumbro River enters the Mississippi River near Kellogg.
Costello and others who believe as she does live on private land near the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The refuge is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Stefanski is the manager of the refuge’s Winona District.
The land in question is being logged, beginning in late January and expected to end soon. Coming down are all the red pines as well as some oaks because of oak wilt.
Costello; her husband, Mike Costello, and neighbors Joe Giem and Barb Laska, met at the Costello’s garage Sunday to talk about what they see.
For them, it’s not a pretty sight.
While Giem and Laska are lifelong area residents, the Costellos moved to the land Nov. 1.
“We like the area, we like being out in the country,” Mike Costello said.
He grew up in the area, while his wife is from Rosemount. When they look out windows of their home and garage, they see deer, turkeys, birds, all kinds of wildlife. They like that. They believe the cutting will hurt that wildlife.
When Nicki Costello saw all the cutting, “I was in tears, I was so sad,” she said. “To see those beautiful pines laying on their side.”
Mike Costello said, “I would have been concerned if I had seen that before we bought this property.”
Part of the service land being logged is already prairie. It came when the U.S. Corps of Engineers moved sand dredged from the Mississippi to the land; it was then covered with black dirt and planted into prairie.
The four aren’t impressed with results.
“If they are trying to return sand prairie to this natural habitat, why keep pumping sand?” Mike Costello said.
Why not remove river sand already there? Giem asked.
Also irking them is that only a handful of people got letters explaining the project.
“If they are so proud of what they’re doing, why didn’t they tell people about it?” Giem said.
“It seems like they aren’t telling people what’s going on,” Laska said. “It creates a lot of worry in people.”
Logging is correcting a mistake the service made when planting those pines in the 1950s, Stefanski said.
“We messed with it originally. That was the wildlife management thing to do” back then, Stefanski said. “We’ve learned that is not the right thing to do, we want habitat to be what it was.”
She said the service held public meetings for the last two cuttings but no complained so it just sent out letters to landowners immediately adjacent to the cut area. Logging will be finished soon.
The service has given contracts to loggers to take the pines out twice before; this is the final time, she said. This time, some oaks are being cut because of oak wilt, she said. Money from the sale is used to compensate counties for money they lose because the land is off the tax rolls.
Part of the problem is that people see what’s on land now as the way things ought to be, she said, “People grew up thinking it’s supposed to be a shelter belt,” she said. But it was sand prairie 150 years ago. Wildlife has a lot of other places to find trees, including on thousands of bottomlands in the refuge.
When the cutting is done, the service will work to turn much of the land to prairie, as is being done on other parts of the land Sand Prairie complex between Wabasha and Weaver. Much of that slash will be burned.
Stefanski said the dredged sand has been used to create islands in river backwaters; on land, it can be disposed of by removing topsoil, pumping in the sand and putting topsoil back on to make prairie.
As for communications, “I will always gladly meet with people who have concerns,” she said.