Chatfield brothers win Tree Farmer of the Year

From left, Chatfield brothers Bill and Steve Bailey, who stand at the Ninebark Road Trailhead in Chatfield, have won the 2015 Minnesota Tree Farmer of the Year award. The brothers emphasized the award wasn't for cutting trees so much as their environmental focus and concern.

If the Chatfield "Western Days Stampede" 10K trail runners took the time to look around Bill and Steve Bailey's wooded trails, they would have observed the brothers' state award-winning forest logging and conservation efforts.

The Bailey brothers were awarded the Minnesota state Tree Farmer of the Year award from the American Tree Farm System for their efforts in conservation, public education, and making their forest area available for recreational activities.

"I think we were honored that they thought we were doing enough to be nominated for the award. We are just doing what we enjoy as a winter hobby, and it's something that commercial loggers couldn't afford," Bill Bailey said.

The process began after they hosted a Forestry Field Day that drew attention to their practices and they were nominated. They hosted public education about sustainable, healthy forestry practices and showed off the Lost Creek Hiking Trail that goes through their land. The trail is complete with educational signs and enables community members to get out into the woods for recreation.

The brothers have been farming since the 1960s on the same 1,200 acres of land as their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and also they own around 500 acres of pasture land. They added the forest management component in the late 1970s.


They consider their logging and forestry operation on 300 acres as more of a hobby than a moneymaker. Bill received a degree in forestry from the University of Minnesota , and that training informs their strategies to maintain a healthy forest.

Their forest contains about a dozen tree species and the Bailey brothers specifically cut down trees and do clearing work to prevent overcrowding, to ensure a diversity of species, to prevent invasive species from disrupting the vegetation, and to provide wildlife a proper habitat.

"Keeping the forest healthy is kind of like healthy eating. No matter how good one food is, if you only eat that one, it's not going to be healthy. That's why we have lots of different kinds of trees, because that's more healthy," Steve Bailey said.

The wood, cut only in the winter to prevent erosion, is mostly used for furniture, pallets, and firewood.

The Baileys spent their childhood outside in the forest, so it was natural for them to want to take good care of it once they took over. They expressed a desire that people can get out and, as Bill put it, "see what nature looks like." The two hope people can understand the importance of taking care of nature in the future.

"We try to impress upon people that doing nothing is worse than doing something incorrect. No matter what you're doing, you'll be helping at least something grow," Bill said.

A couple examples he gave of beneficial work are maintaining trails through forests so people can keep an eye on the conditions and clearing out any invasive species.

"Even if you're not an expert, you can still improve the forest. With more education, people can learn what they can do," Steve added.

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