Cooperation seen as key to healthier forest
KELLOGG — When Larry Gates drives along Wabasha County Road 14 paralleling East Indian Creek several miles south of Kellogg, he sees mostly green trees on bottomlands, bluffsides and blufftops.
In the future, he would like to see a much different, diverse landscape with more young forests, more goat prairie, large patches of brush between fields and forest.
In short, he wants it to look more like his land along the road where he owns 511 acres and has been managing them for more ecological diversity.
His dream also is what a group led by the former Department of Natural Resources fisheries official and planner wants. Gates is chairman of the Southeast Regional Landscape Committee that has been working for more than a decade to get a vision of what the land should look like, as well as how to achieve that goal. It was formed after the Minnesota Legislature passed the Sustainable Forest Resource Act in 1995 to find ways to make the state's forests better for timber, wildlife and recreation now and well into the future.
The plan was praised last week at the Driftless Young Forest Symposium in La Crosse, Wis., that brought together resource managers from 16 groups in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa to talk about what's wrong with the forests in their states and what should be done.
Gates said looking for younger forests would be part of the committee's plan but so are older forests needed by other species, such as some songbirds. They also are looking for more logging and timber-processing jobs, more recreation and tourism.
"We want a vigorous public sector," he said. "We want to see active forest management."
While those at the symposium pushed for more young forests, especially oak, Gates said other people would like to see more maple and basswood.
"Is there room to accommodate all of the visions?" he said. "The short answer is yes, but it's done with a good plan."
That means a lot of agencies and groups talking to each other and working with owners of timber; in this region, maybe 86 percent of timberland is private.
Landowners, both public and private, often have different goals for their land, he said. Some want to manage for mainly walnut or oak, which are more valuable, others might like maple for syrup. Gates' goals are to get his woods "as diverse and complex as I can" for more wildlife species and also erosion control and clean water.
On the last few goals, people agree.
"All of us want better water quality, fewer floods," he said.
One problem to realizing the vision is the "dizzying array" of state and federal agencies that have something to offer. His group would rather have one person work directly with landowners, getting to know their needs, he said.
Also, many people don't think much about their woods until deer-hunting season, he said. If they managed them well, "it's money in the bank if they are managing them vigorously."
In his 8,000-acre East Indian watershed, he and others have talked with neighbors and gotten 10 to agree to a strategy for about 500 contiguous acres, he said. They are registered with the DNR, and if money becomes available, they might be able to get it, he said. When neighbors get together, there's also more opportunities to get better prices for logs or to get equipment to plant prairie.
Also, larger managed blocks of forest help retain good genetics, he said.
After working on the plan, and with his neighbors, Gates is optimistic.
"I am, I am a really hopeful person," he said. "I think good things could happen; it has to happen in a coordinated, sustainable fashion."