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Samuelson: Forestry education in action

The summer "Walk in the Woods" was in Bob Asproth’s forest near Mahtowa. Pictured, the group checks out a half-acre patch cut. Birch and maple seed trees are on the edge. Photo courtesy of Kim Samuelson

One of the main purposes of the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District is to teach people how to care for the natural environment.

Throughout this past year, Kelly Smith, Carlton SWCD forestry technician, was instrumental in coordinating a series of "Walk in the Woods" events for local landowners to learn how to care for their forests.

During the walks, sponsored by the Kettle River Woodland Council, a chapter of the Minnesota Forestry Association, Smith and other forestry professionals brought information about the many decisions and activities needed to plant, care for, use and harvest trees.

Landowners visited Alan Finifrock's property east of Moose Lake last spring. Originally owned and farmed by his parents, Finifrock learned as a child how to plant and care for trees after his parents decided the land was better suited as a forest. These early experiences started an annual tradition of tree plantings and other forest projects Finifrock has shared with family, friends and neighbors.

In fact, during the walk, two other attendees, Will Salo and John Schwock, recounted stories of Finifrock's forest projects: Salo helped with harvesting aspen 30 years ago, and Scwock assisted in planting 10,000 spruce and pine trees in 1997.

Several of Finifrock's projects have required outside funding and labor assistance. According to Smith, "there is funding assistance available to help get forest management projects done. Red pine thinning and young forest habitat are two of the eligible practices."

Red pines planted in the early 1950s on Finifrock's land were thinned in 1991 to improve the health and growth rate of the remaining trees. And last winter, with assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Finifrock worked with logger Justin Salmela to harvest 11 acres of aspen to create a forest habitat for Golden-winged warblers and other birds and forest creatures.

Annual tradition, fueled by enjoyment of the land, plays a huge part in carrying out Finifrock's projects. The biggest benefits for Finifrock are the ability to ski and hike in his forest, the chances to observe wildlife, and the feelings of peace, quiet and satisfaction from a lifetime of work, growth, family and friendship.

The summer "Walk in the Woods" was held in Bob Asproth's forest near Mahtowa and emphasized how to steer the direction a forest takes by determining the time of year and the amount of area where timber is harvested.

The fall "Walk in the Woods" was on property along the Kettle River, just upstream of Rutledge, owned by Paul Dickson, a knowledgeable and experienced consulting forester and owner of Dickson Forestry, Inc.

Dickson enrolled his property in a 50-year Sustainable Forest Incentive Act covenant "to keep this property from being subdivided and developed," Smith noted. The annual payments are enough to cover Dickson's property taxes on this land.

While landowners enjoy being able to hunt, walk and explore their forests, Smith emphasizes that "all of us are benefiting from the wood products," as well as the benefits to rivers, lakes and wildlife.

"These woods walks provided forest landowners the contacts with forestry professionals, information on project assistance, and the ability to share experiences with other forest landowners," Smith said.

Kim Samuelson is Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District's elected supervisor for District 4. If you would like to host or attend a future "Walk in the Woods," or would like more information about managing and generating income from your forest and how Carlton SWCD can help, contact Kelly Smith at 218-384-3891.