Sustaining Resources with Management and Technology
Minnesota is an area of ecological transition, with quality agricultural land and remnant prairies in the south and west, majestic forests to the north, and quality hardwood forests in the southeast. Private landowners have long been concerned with effective use of their land: Could the forested property be cleared and planted to agricultural crops? Should marginal farmland be allowed to return to forest? What is an appropriate buffer between row crops and streams? What will attract deer or grouse to the property?
University of Minnesota research that benefits nonindustrial private woodland owners has evolved over the last century from helping farmers efficiently cut and properly dry their lumber and preserve their own posts, to stewardship planning, wildlife habitat management, and shoreline revegetation. With more than six million acres of "family forest land" in Minnesota, research is shared with landowners through the University of Minnesota Extension Service and outreach programs, often including the Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies.
To guide state government in assisting landowners, researchers have evaluated tax incentive programs and surveyed forest owners. In the '70s, in the first survey of its kind, U of M researchers asked Minnesota landowners how important it was to receive cost-sharing money to plant trees. One finding: two-thirds said they probably would have planted the trees anyway. Information from these surveys directed successful changes in tax laws, management advice, and set-aside programs in states across the country.
Windbreaks are essential to protect farm soils in windblown prairie states. The still generally accepted field windbreak design was developed by early U of M forestry research in partnership with federal agencies. More than 300 windbreaks established in the 1920s protected soil during the 1930s' drought and were monitored for effectiveness through the 1950s. The research included experimental thinning and tests of many species to improve longevity and ability to capture snow and prevent wind erosion. With the advent of large center-pivot irrigation systems, shorter-stature varieties were tested to survive under the rotating irrigation pipes. The windbreak systems reduce wind erosion; conserve soil moisture; and provide valuable habitat for birds, small mammals, and other wildlife. Today, researchers are discovering ways that income-producing crops, such as hybrid poplars or hazelnuts, can be incorporated into farmstead shelterbelts and field windbreaks to encourage long-term stewardship.
Forest Fire Management
No surprise that prescribed fires for forest management are controversial. Minnesota history is marked by devastating fires and loss of human lives in the towns of Hinckley, Cloquet, Moose Lake, and others. In 1905, a neighbor's brush-clearing fire destroyed much of the University's first experimental pine plantation at Grand Rapids. Forest management in the first part of the century was mainly to prevent fire.
At Itasca State Park, researchers documented growth of the large pine stands and the chronology of fires from the early 1600s in their quest to understand forest growth and decline in natural (unlogged) forest land. Forest fires were common in the presettlement era, and regenerated sizable pine stands. Established by the Minnesota Legislature in 1891, Itasca State Park was an area to be protected from the wildfires that dominated headlines of that era. By mid-century, U of M forest ecologists discovered that "protecting" the pine forest would eventually lead to its demise. Pines were being replaced by shade-tolerant species, and in 1965 researchers published a forecast of how the forest would change over the next 200 years. Nearly 40 years later, we find that model to be relatively accurate. Experiments using logging, hand clearing, herbicide treatments, prescribed burns, planting, and natural seeding led to practices that ensure Itasca State Park pine stands will continue to be enjoyed by future visitors.
Trees in sensitive areas near wetlands are harvested in winter to protect water resources and aquatic life downstream. Innovative, low impact stream crossing devices such as inexpensive plastic pipes laid in a stream channel and covered with planks were tested and demonstrated to industry leaders in the Great Lakes area. The water flows uninterrupted, there is no silt disturbance—even if used in the summer—and 40-ton logging trucks pass over unimpeded.
Assessing Potential of Family-Owned Forestland
Assessing the health, marketability, and wildlife habitat potential of family-owned forestland based on University of Minnesota research and modeling is a key step in the development of a stewardship plan for landowners. The state and consultants provide one-on-one technical advice to owners of family forestlands. Plans may also include the landowners' financial and aesthetic goals for the property.
Satellite Images and Ground Survey Data Provide Comprehensive Overview
The University and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources cooperated in a project designed to merge satellite images with information from ground surveys and aerial photos to provide Internet access to a comprehensive, current picture of what's on the landscape. Maps produced with MapServer software—a U of M product—provide valuable composites of data that can help landowners plan timber harvests, protect unique areas, fight fires, or find a good spot to hunt or hike.
Forest Plot Measurements
Permanent plot measurements carried out at the Cloquet Forestry Center since 1910 have shown the resilience of forests, what may be expected in terms of growth and yield, and how best to manage such forest tracts—be it for wildlife habitat, timber production, or recreational use.