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SWCD NEWS: Every 'little bit' helps with conservation

Mark Behrends (left) goes over plans with workers from Fond du Lac Forestry who were hired to do select clearing on 11 acres of Behrends' aspen forest. Behrends was named SWCD's 2017 "Outstanding Forest Conservationist." Special to the Pine Journal1 / 2
SWCD Supervisor Mark Thell (right) presents a yard sign to Elizabeth and Wendell Lund of Blackhoof Township. The couple was named 2017 Carlton County Outstanding Conservationists. Special to the Pine Journal2 / 2

Part II

Last week, the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) introduced three of your Carlton County neighbors who were presented SWCD 2017 Conservation Awards. In this article, we will introduce the last two conservation award winners: Outstanding Conservationists — Wendell and Elizabeth Lund, and Forest Steward Conservationist — Mark Behrends. Both of these winners will also represent Carlton SWCD in state competition in December.

Outstanding Forest Conservationist — Mark Behrends

Mark Behrends, who owns land in Blackhoof Township in the Nemadji River Watershed, contacted the Carlton SWCD's Kelly Smith to find out how to improve his forestland in 2012. According to Smith, a forestry conservation technician, Behrend's goals for his property were three-fold: to generate income from timber, to improve the value and health of the timber, and to maintain quality wildlife habitat.

The first step was the creation of a Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP). To begin with, Smith inventoried each area of Behrend's property identifying soil types, tree and plant cover, current conditions and perceived trends. Smith identified four different types of forest on the property: a steep bluff which had aspen growth, an area of aspen saplings, a mixed age aspens-type area and a northern hardwoods area. The property — mainly rolling land with sandy soils — was well-suited to grow oak, birch, pine, maple and aspen, and some of those tree types were already there.

The FSP also gave recommendations of several things Behrends could do to reach his goals.

In 2014, with assistance from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota (CCM), Behrends planted 500 wildlife packet trees and shrubs from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as well as 375 trees from a private nursery. Behrends also placed shelters around the trees to protect them from deer browsing for the first few years.

"In an area dominated by aspen, Mark is working to add diversity," Smith said.

One FSP recommendation was to provide more sunlight and space for seedlings, saplings and grown trees. Some trees — especially oak, birch, pine and aspen — will not regenerate in areas overcrowded with too many older, bigger trees. The dense shade in these overcrowded areas blocks sunlight to tree seedlings and other plants which feed wildlife. In 2016, Behrends asked Smith for help with a plan to fulfill this recommendation.

Using the plan, Behrends first hired Fond du Lac Forestry to do select clearing around full-grown seed trees of desirable species on 11 acres of his aspen forest. The ground in these cleared areas was then scratched up to expose soil for acorns and other seeds for good germination, explained Smith.

"Over the next five years, we expect to see about 1,000 seedlings per acre of oak, birch, and pine in these gaps," Smith said, adding that these openings will also grow flowers and plants to attract pollinators and other wildlife.

Behrends' "little bits" of hard work will pay off in several ways: by improving the health and value of his timber, by providing more wildlife habitat and by helping to create healthier forests to improve water quality. An added bonus is that the FSP also makes Behrends eligible for two Minnesota property tax relief programs for forest landowners.

Outstanding Conservationists — Wendell and Elizabeth Lund

After meeting Wendell and Elizabeth Lund in 2015, Carlton SWCD Water Resources Technician Melanie Bomier recalled that it was clear the Lunds had already made a commitment to water quality. Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program specialist Ryan Clark agreed.

"One thing that surprised me is their understanding of watersheds and how land use affects water quality as far away as Lake Superior," Clark said.

This understanding and commitment shows through all the Lunds have accomplished on their 80-acre farm in the Nemadji River Watershed. To the Lunds, farming is not just about making money. It's about healthy cattle, bountiful crops, clean water, robust soil health and good land use. These qualities are evident in all the "little bits" they have done and show why the Lunds were honored as the Outstanding Conservationists for 2017.

Protecting sensitive and riparian areas along waterways were important to the Lunds in their goal to protect water quality. They have worked on systems to keep their livestock out of these areas through the use of fencing and a rotational grazing system. They also use controlled access in the heavy use areas, such as around water troughs where livestock spend a lot of time.

According to Clark, the Lunds were one of the first Water Quality Certified Farms in Carlton County and they have used the certification program to implement further conservation practices. They worked with the SWCD and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a conservation plan that worked on their farm. They also received federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding and a Minnesota Department of Agriculture grant to help put the plan in practice.

One of the Lunds' upcoming projects is to work with Carlton SWCD on a stream restoration project planned for 2018. Their property has one of the red clay dams which were installed in the 1970s.

"Over time, these structures have failed, releasing sediment into the impaired Nemadji River system," explained Bomier. "With Wendell and Elizabeth's help, we will restore the stream in the failed dam area. This will not only reduce erosion and improve water quality, but also improve stream connectivity and habitat."

The Lunds' overall goal is to work towards a complete conservation plan on their land, including prescribed grazing and other practices and projects to improve forage quality and production and water quality. Clark emphasizes that the Lund Farm is an excellent example of a fully implemented conservation plan for pasture, crop, forest, and riparian land use.

We heartily congratulate and deeply thank all five of these award winners for the "little bits" they have done to protect and improve natural resources in Carlton County. May we all learn from their examples and do our "little bits," too.

By joining together, we can work, as Desmond Tutu said, to "overwhelm the world".... or, at the very least, to help make Carlton County an even greater place to live.