Spotlight: Deb Pomroy and Ray Barnes - Duluth, MN

Working Woodlands — Managing for local flora and fauna

Deb Pomroy and Ray Barnes standing in snow covered fieldIn Deb Pomroy and Ray Barnes' neck of the woods, there is no shortage of critters. Wolf tracks crisscross the frozen river that runs through their property. Grouse sing and dance outside of their living room window. They've fed branches to the local beaver family living in their wetland and had a baby porcupine sniff their boots. And once, while quietly spying on a pair of otters wrestling with a fish, they surprised a red fox who'd come trotting along to check out the commotion. Deb gestures to a tamarack in the distance. "It's on a hill that overlooks the river, you can see quite a ways downstream and upstream. And from there we watch a lot of wildlife. You can see the ducks and the swans." These two wildlife-lovers couldn't ask for a better place.

Their fondness for the local fauna plays an important role in how they manage their woods. "We have more birds now than before because our woods were opened up," say Ray in reference to their most recent harvest, which took place three years ago. They worked with natural resource professionals to design a harvest that would not disturb the local population of wood turtles that inhabit their river, a threatened species in Minnesota. "They weren't nesting at the time," Deb notes, "That was really important." Deb and Ray have plans to continue improving areas near the river for wood turtle habitat.

They are also eager to experiment with hugelkultur, a traditional German gardening technique that involves mounding up woody debris (stumps, logs, branches) and covering it with soil. Ray explains: "It's part of permaculture. As the wood breaks down it provides the bacteria and it holds water, provides nutrients and everything." "You can grow trees there, you can grow fruits there'—things for wildlife," Deb adds.


Deb and Ray's harvest took about a month to complete. During this time, areas of mature timber were removed throughout their 80-acre property, leaving behind strategically chosen "islands" of trees. Though the change was significant, they couldn't be happier with the results. "People say 'Oh it's going to look bad for a long time.' But it doesn't look bad more than a couple of years," Deb says. In fact, the couple saw beauty return quickly to their harvested areas: "Right after they got done logging that fall, we had plants that only show up during periods of disturbed ground," explains Ray. "That corydalis, beautiful little plants, they were everywhere. And then, all of the asters came out. You look out there and it was just a sea of blooms. And at night when the moon would come out late in the evening, it would just be silver in color—shining off of blossoms out there. The bees were everywhere," he recounts. "It's really interesting to watch how everything progresses in different stages."

The couple also found fascination with the harvest process itself, having the opportunity one day to accompany the logger inside the harvester. "I found it very interesting to watch," says Deb. "He has a computer in front of him. Each tree he goes up to, he could enter the species," she recalls. "It kept track of everything that he was cutting," Ray continues, "it'd tell you what the diameter was and he could actually see what the market value of the tree was per day as he's cutting."

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