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Published July 28 2012

Minnesota forest managers deal with tree blowdown

CASS LAKE, Minn. — Forest managers are trying to determine how best to clean up fallen trees scattered across miles of public lands after straight-line winds roared through northern Minnesota in early July.

The July 2 storm knocked down hundreds of thousands of trees from Bemidji to Grand Rapids.

Norway Beach on the south shore of Cass Lake was hit hard. Giant, old-growth red pines — many between 100 and 200 years old — are strewn across the landscape, Minnesota Public Radio News reported Friday.

About half of the 170 campsites at Norway Beach were occupied when the winds whipped through, Chippewa National Forest Supervisor Darla Lenz said.

“There was no one injured and there was no one killed, and I consider it a miracle,” Lenz said.

But the land was heavily scarred. Within the Chippewa National Forest alone, the storm affected an area 10 miles wide and 40 miles long. About 17,000 acres of forest sustained moderate to severe damage.

Norway Beach probably won't reopen this summer. Several other recreation areas are closed indefinitely, along with more than 100 miles of bike and hiking trails.

Forest managers want to bring commercial logging crews to salvage the trees for saw timber. Downed pine trees that sit for more than about six weeks are prone to bark beetle infestation and a fungus called blue stain, which damages the quality of the wood.

But Lenz said she doesn't have enough staff to ensure the timber is appraised and on the market that quickly.

“Because of the magnitude of the blowdown, it's unlikely we'd be able to recover all of it for saw timber,” she told MPR. “We believe we'll have some areas that have higher fuel levels now, may be more prone to wildfires in the future, so we need to plan on treating those areas, and we won't be able to accomplish all of that work in one year.”

The same pressure faces forest workers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The July 2 storm ripped through Itasca State Park and up the Mississippi River corridor, damaging about 40,000 acres of public and private lands.

About 4,000 acres of state forest lands were ripped up, stretching from Bemidji to Deer River, DNR regional forest manager Dave Thomas said.

Forest officials hope to salvage as much pine as possible, but aspen and other hardwoods may have to wait until next year. The long-term plan is to replant the damaged forests.

“When we've got this valuable of a resource lying on the ground, we want to get that back into production,” Thomas said. “It's a very important part of our local economy up here.”

Restoring the forests into production will cost millions. But some say the DNR's budget is already stretched.

State Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, has asked that recovery money for the agency be included in a planned late-August special legislative session to deal with flood damage in northeastern Minnesota.

Jobs may be the one good thing to come from the blowdown. Forest managers say the cleanup will put to work logging crews that otherwise would have been idle because of the slow economy.