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In the Woods With . . .

Minnesota has 16.3 million acres of forest land. DNR Forestry manages 4.5 million acres of state forest land, prevents and fights wildfires, grows millions of tree seedlings for planting around the state, and helps other landowners manage their forests for wood products and recreation.


Dave Epperly DNR Forestry director


Q: What is the most challenging issue in forest management today?

The most pressing is the threat to the forestland acreage. That threat can manifest itself through the sale of timberland and the fragmentation of that land to private land ownership. We're spending a lot of time looking at various tools we have in our toolbox, such as conservation easements, which would allow us to protect large contiguous areas of forest landscape from being divided.

Our society's connection to the forests is huge. Making sure that basic infrastructure of the land is there, in place and intact, for forests to function will help maintain the attributes that we've all come to appreciate in the place we call Minnesota.

Q Forests provide timber and recreation. How does the DNR balance these uses?

At any given time, the issue of the goods from the woods and services such as recreation are being balanced. The Division of Forestry does this collectively and practically through collaboration with the divisions of Trails and Waterways, Fish and Wildlife, and Ecological Resources to work toward the best management of timber and recreation as a department. Specifically, the Division of Forestry also follows guidelines to allow a sustainable supply of timber while making sure that the forest exists for wildlife habitat and our recreational use.

Q Climate change models show significant changes for Minnesota forests over the next century. What is the most immediate threat, and what is being done to address it?

One hundred years ago, we saw the forest as having unlimited potential. It was exploited, but it rebounded. That shows our forests are resilient. Under warmer conditions, some forest areas may not be able to rebound on their own.

The immediate concern has to do with the trees' ability to withstand invasive pests. If trees are stressed by warmer temperatures or drought, they become more vulnerable to disease. Improving the health of a stand can be accomplished by removing diseased trees or thinning a stand to allow trees to use more nutrients and water. If the quality of the timber or habitat is too degraded, we may decide to remove the existing trees and convert to a more appropriate species.

Our current plan is to intensify our efforts where it matters most for the health of the trees. Additionally, work will be done in the younger age-class forests to make sure they are healthy and resilient enough to withstand environmental stress.

Q What would you like Minnesotans to know about forests and the work of your division?

I think most Minnesotans already know that forests are important, and they care about them. The Division of Forestry in particular understands that. I think we can get lost in issues relating to what we demand from the forest and our particular passion for certain forest attributes.

We can't do this alone, we're all in this together. Our forests are important to all of us, and we can't lose sight of the fact that we're all connected to the land, even if we live in the city.

Q What could we learn from a forester about seeing trees -- as individual species and as part of an ecosystem?

As individual species relate to the ecosystem, I think the point is that all species, all living things, and the physical attributes of the landscape itself -- the rocks and water -- are connected. How those individual tree species relate to that connection is an important distinction, and that's where we work with our individual partners to help us keep those linkages in front of us so we can better manage the forest.

Q What is your favorite tree?

I honestly don't have a favorite species . . . but if you're going to be persistent, it's the red pine. To me it is about the most versatile tree there is. It grows well; it's a hearty tree. It was almost wiped out in the last glaciation period, and its tenacity moved it back throughout the state. Its wood can be used for so many different things and it provides habitat for a lot of different wildlife. But its tenacity is really indicative of why it's our state tree.

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