Friday, November 30, 2007

Re-storing the Upper Gunflint’s Jack Pine- “Show me the Money”

The Gunflint Scenic Byway’s Forestry Committee following last spring’s Ham Lake Fire drew-up the following Reforestation Principles they would like to see implemented:

  • Restore the upland jack pine – black spruce ecosystem to something approaching the pre - 1999 windstorm conditions in terms of acreage within the viewshed of the scenic byway corridor in all fire affected areas. Strategies would include aerial seeding on a large scale and planting where necessary. This should include previously logged areas; salvage logged areas and prescribed fire areas that were to young to contain an adequate seed source for natural regeneration.

  • Increase the long-lived red and white pine component along the byway corridor throughout the burned areas. Main strategies should include large scale planting coupled with direct seeding. Suggest possibility of including a portion of red and white pine seed in any large scale seeding of upland jack pine-black spruce.

These goals were presented to Gunflint District Ranger Dennis Nietzke and his staff at a meeting in September. Nietzke stated he basically agreed with these principles.

The Byway’s Forestry Committee next met with Nieitzke in October. At that meeting he proposed planting some 1000 acres of red and white pine in the burned over areas. It was agreed by the Byway Committee that if this proposal was actually implemented it would go a long ways to fulfilling the Committee’s second goal.

However, at first, Nietzke did not give any indication that the District was going to do anything about the burned-over jack pine. When Nietzke was pressed on restoring the jack pine he responded that, “it will all come back naturally.” However when pressed further and confront with the fact that much of the jack pine burned during the fire had already been burned over by the District’s own prescribed burns and because of this there was no seed source left Nietzke agreed to revisit the issue.

Thursday (November 29), the Byway’s Forest Committee again met with Nietzke. Attending the meeting for the Committee were Nancy Seaton, Jim Johnson, Jim Raml, Barbara Bottger and myself.

At this meeting Nietzke stated that due to funding limitations his original proposal to plant 1000 acres of red and white pine would have to be reduced to 400 acres. However, he now felt that 1600 acres of jack pine should be seeded.

In terms of the planting of the red and white pine, Nietzke explained that by planting less pine per acre and adding in the 150 acres the Gunflint resident’s “Green-Up” program is proposing to plant that about 800 acres could actually be covered. The Byway’s Committee present at the meeting informally agreed that this reduction in acres would still be inline with their original goal of increasing the red and white pine on the Gunflint.

Neitzke stated that planting of the 400 acres of red and white pines is his first priority and the 1600 acres of jack pine would be his second priority. He went on to state that while it appears the Forest Service’s current budget could cover the cost of planting the red and white pine, priority two, the jack pine seeding, would have to be funded in the agency’s next year’s budget. However, Nietzke had no idea when that budget might be approve or even if the jack pine seeding would be covered in that budget. He then suggested that maybe the Byway’s Committee could help by coming-up with some, if not all the seeding cost. This cost is estimated in excess of $100,000.

The Forest Service expect to have their Ham Lake Fire Reforestation plan ready for thirty days of public comment by December and their final decision by January.

In the meantime if jack pine is going to be planted someone has to come up with the money and the Forest Service has to find enough jack pine seeds. And all this must be done right away in order for the agency to get their seed order in by February. Further complicating the jack pine seeding is that the optimum time to seed would be this spring before the aspen and brush, which is rapidly spreading into the burned over jack pine forest, takes-over.

Both the Byway Committee and the Forest Service are agreement that if much of the upper Gunflint’s jack pine forest is going to be restored it must be seeded soon. The question is where is the money going to come from?

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