In July of 2011 two separate wind events damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in Minnesota and Wisconsin. A fact sheet recently prepared by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources includes the following observations:
- It is roughly estimated that a total of 600,000–700,000 cords worth $12 million–$14 million was lost.
- Salvage logging operations started shortly after the government shutdown in July 2011 and have continued ever since.
- Approximately 40 percent to 50 percent of damaged timber has been salvaged to date. (Aug 2012)
- The sale of this damaged timber will continue as long as there is blowdown to appraise and loggers to purchase it.
Of course, the loggers must have outlets for their timber sales. According to our records, we have purchased nearly half of the damaged timber from Minnesota for use at our paper mill in Cloquet.
I recently had a chance to visit a logging operation near a horse camp in the St. Croix Valley State Park. While I was able to take a few pictures, the images don’t fully capture the impact of the damage – nor do they convey the sense of frustration I felt in watching loggers work to harvest fallen timber. In this condition, it is extremely challenging to harvest and remove the timber for use. It’s slow, difficult, and expensive to cut – only certain equipment is even capable of doing it. Fellers must be capable of cutting vertically and often cutting tools are hitting dirt, kicking up debris and dulling saw blades. Trees are bent and create snags. Broken trunks require at least twice as many cuts for the given length of timber.
And it creates a significant wildfire hazard if simply left as is.
The picture on the left shows an example of the damaged trees. Try to imagine hundreds of thousands of acres of the forest in this condition. The second picture shows results after the damaged trees were cut and removed allowing the area to begin regenerating. These two pictures were taken from the same spot standing in a road looking left and right. A remarkable contrast showing the benefits of the loggers working to help repair the damaged forest. Just one year later the (assisted) regeneration is remarkable.
As noted, we are buying much of this timber for our mill – some of it is certified – some if it is not. But the fact that we are willing to buy it provides an outlet for the wood – the underlying economic support to get it cleaned up. And it comes at no bargain. The sale of the timber goes to the logger at a reduced value – however, they must work so much harder to get at it that the delivered cost to the mill is on par with normally harvested standing timber.
This was an act of nature, but it is arguable that much of this loss could have been prevented through better management practices. The trees that were damaged were primarily over mature aspen. While some younger stands were damaged in the wind storms, it appears they have not have suffered the same extent of damage.
In our video on sustainable forestry, Gary Erickson remarks: “A lot of people have the idea that by leaving things alone, they’re always going to maintain the forest exactly the way it is today. But that honestly is not an option. If we don’t make a choice to manage it, nature will change it with fire, or bugs, or wind, or something else.”
We recorded the footage in June of 2011; one month before the blowdown.