protects old-growth trees
FOREST PLAN:In an effort to protect
old-growth forests, the Minnesota agency bars logging
on 40,000 acres of state land.
Duluth News Tribune
Nearly 40,000 acres of state-owned
forest land will be set aside as old-growth forest under
a plan developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural
The old growth includes some
of the state's most majestic, oldest and biggest trees,
which will be off-limits to logging.
The total acreage protected
amounts to less than 1 percent of all state-managed lands
and an even smaller percentage, less than 0.3 percent,
of the 15 million forested acres in the state.
About 50 percent of the state's
forest was old growth before farmers and loggers began
clearing it in the 1800s.
Yet, while the plan protects
only a fraction of the state's old trees, it marks the
first official protection for many of the more than 750
stands of old timber on state land. These are trees either
missed or bypassed by loggers over the past century --
some of the last virgin timber left in the state.
"We inventoried all the potential
old growth on state land, and these are the ones that
scored the highest," said Keith Wendt, a DNR planner who
headed the Old-Growth Forest Committee. "These are the
last, best old trees on state land."
Old growth -- trees 120 years
and older -- is considered important for forest diversity,
including wildlife habitat and aesthetics. Old trees also
can be keys to regeneration, with hardy trees having the
best genetic traits to survive and reproduce.
Very old trees also provide
unique habitat for other types of organisms, from owls
and bears to mosses, lichens and fungi. They are important
not just for their size, but for the shade they cast and
their rotting logs on the forest floor.
"These are the oldest and
least disturbed ecological communities in their areas,"
said Kurt Rusterholz of the DNR's Ecological Services
Division. "Some species, quite a few really, require very
old forest cover or they can't survive."
But protecting old-growth
trees has become a national, even global, hot-button issue.
The same trees that many people want to preserve also
are the best trees for the lumber industry. That battle
has caused confrontation in Minnesota and across the nation,
both in courts and in the forests.
Of the nearly 40,000 acres
protected, about 22,000 acres are on land where the old
trees were in danger of being cut, such as state forests.
The rest are in state parks and scientific and natural
areas and likely would never have been logged.
The DNR's draft plan was released
Friday and will be available on a Web site for public
viewing next month.
"The protections are essentially
in place. No further action is needed" by the Legislature
or DNR commissioner, Wendt said.
Each old-growth stand has
been identified in a computer database that will alert
foresters which lands are off-limits for logging.
The acres protected were determined
by the DNR's Old Growth Forest Committee, which has been
working for eight years, first to figure how much old
growth existed in Minnesota and then to decide how much
should be protected. The committee included staff from
the planning, forestry, wildlife and ecological services
The trees considered for old
growth included red and white pines, cedar, oak, spruce,
fir, maple, basswood and some additional northern hardwood
species. Other species -- such as jack pine, aspen and
birch, which rarely reach 120 years -- weren't considered
for old-growth protections
The agency found about 70,000
acres of old-growth trees on state land that are 120 years
old or older. But many of those trees were in very small
clusters and weren't included in the final plan.
Wayne Brandt, executive vice
president of the Minnesota Timber Producers, said his
group supports the new old-growth protection plan. But
he said the long delay in forming a plan, nearly eight
years, may have kept some saw timber off the market.
That may have helped squeeze
the amount of available timber as sawmills face increasingly
tough economic times. And Brandt hopes that timber now
is released to be cut.
"We agree with the concept
of protecting trees that truly meet the definition of
biological old growth, not just an old tree," Brandt said.
"We're hoping now that we have a plan that some of the
area (forestry) managers will release some of that red
pine... that isn't included in the old-growth status."
The DNR's Rusterholz, a member
of the Old Growth Committee, said the total acres protected
probably isn't enough to protect all species in all areas.
"When you go from half the
forest being old to just a percentage or two, we just
don't know what level is necessary for viability," he
said. "But I still think this is one of the major DNR
accomplishments as far as forest sustainability. It was
a major undertaking."
Of the 40,000 acres in the
plan, about 30,000 already meet old-growth requirements,
with about 10,000 acres listed as "potential old growth,"
not quite of age. Both will receive the same protection.
The 40,000 acres falls short
of the combined 56,000 acres old growth/potential old
growth recommended in 1994 reports, "but is about what
we could do considering the controversial nature of old
growth," Wendt said.
Other landowners also are
forming old growth plans, including the U.S. Forest Service
and county land departments. It's not clear how much old
growth the state's two national forests will set aside
outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The
Superior and Chippewa national forests will decide old-growth
protections as part of long-range forest plans that will
be released in February.