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North Shore Forests are Fading

Updated: 01/10/2014 6:21 PM
Created: 01/10/2014 5:51 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Northlanders love the scenic North Shore, and its beauty draws others from around the world, but the U.S. Forest Service said huge sections of the forests are dying. The agency announced a plan to restore it, but it will be an uphill battle.

The land affected amasses to a staggering 270,000 acres between Two Harbors and the Canadian border. The Forest Service announced a plan to restore national forest land, but officials said help from residents is needed because 75 percent of the North Shore is privately owned.

Coastal forests with tall conifers dot the North Shore, but those forests were more common over 100 years ago. Logging and severe fires left open patches that birch trees filled in according to Forest Service officials.

But now those birch trees have started to die.

The dead birch trees are falling over and crumbling from the top down, but foresters said that is the natural end of the trees' life cycle. The real problem environmental competition prevents conifers from growing in and replacing the birch. 

“Those components, such as the white pines or some of the cedar, some of the spruce, are having a hard time regenerating and re-establishing itself in the ecosystem,” Environmental Coordinator Becky Bartol said.

Bartol works in the Superior National Forest. She said shrubs and grass hinder regrowth, and deer love to chew conifers down to the ground.

Bartol said the Forest Service will start planting and protecting saplings in the national forests, but it would cost millions of dollars to restore the entire North Shore.

“We will start working on little pieces, but it really will take some broader collaboration and grants to be able to make much of a dent in it,” Bartol said.

Most of the North Shore is privately owned, so the Sugarloaf Stewardship Association is pushing to get residents involved.

“One thing in working with private land owners, we hope that they will put in some of their own funding to plant trees, and we look for sources to assist them,” Executive Director Molly Thompson said.

She also worked to bring together government, tribal, and other parties to create the North Shore Forest Collaborative. Thompson hopes to eventually get funding from state legislators.

However a lack of trees could present problems soon, like soil erosion into Lake Superior, according to Thompson.

“If you don't have enough cover for the shading over the streams and everything those streams are going to heat up and the fish won't be in the streams anymore,” Thomspon said.

Trees planted now will take over a decade to grow in so these friends of the forest said there is no time to wait.

The Forest Service held a public meeting in Grand Marais to explain the restoration project, and the agency will accept public comments on the plan for 30 days. Bartol said the agency hopes to start planting saplings this summer.

For more information on the restoration project click here.

For more information on the North Shore Forest Collaborative click here.

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