A windstorm created an opening for habitat restoration at St. Croix State Park. On July 11, 2008, straight-line winds ripped through the park, breaking, mangling, and uprooting trees across 420 acres in less than an hour.
"It was one of those storms when you can hear the treetops snap and crash," said park manager Jack Nelson. Downed timber blocked roads and trails. Twisted limbs were a safety hazard. Damaged trees were ripe for insect and disease infestation. And dry, fallen timber escalated the chance of fueling a wildfire.
"Our first goal was to ensure the safety of our guests," Nelson said. "But it didn't take long after park staff had cleared roads and removed hazards that we realized this could be a prime opportunity to restore scarce habitats."
Prior to arrival of European settlers, the land at St. Croix State Park was largely jack pine barrens and oak savanna, which are now two of Minnesota's rarest ecological communities. Fire suppression during the past 70 years allowed dense forests to choke out these open, brushland habitats.
DNR park managers, foresters, ecologists, and wildlife biologists set a goal of restoring 900 acres of brushlands in St. Croix State Park by 2017.
"The blowdown helped us jump-start a large-scale restoration," said Gretchen Heaser, DNR area resource specialist. The project began with reviewing the park's resource management plan and implementing a timber-salvage operation to clear the downed trees.
"State parks have not often used commercial harvests of this scale," said Tavis Westbrook, DNR regional resource specialist. "But this was a unique situation. We wanted to restore brushlands, and we had over 400 acres of downed timber that would retain much of its value if we could offer it for salvage quickly."
DNR foresters from the Sandstone area set up the timber auction for a salvage cut, which was completed in December.
"We are pleased with the results. The timber operators were sensitive to our needs and minimized impact to the land," Heaser said. "Restoration will continue to take shape over the upcoming years with controlled burns and exotic species control."
The blowdown area will probably not need to be planted because grasses and forbs will likely emerge in the newly created forest openings. Restored brushlands will benefit wildlife, including sharp-tailed grouse, Blanding's turtles, eastern hognose snakes, wood turtles, and a variety of invertebrates.
Jean Goad, DNR public affairs officer