Minnesota’s pines are threatened

Lynne Kozarek

Forests of majestic white pines covered Minnesota as recently as a century ago, but today only a few small strands of the tree survive.
With another century about to begin, the University chapter of the Society of American Foresters held a round-table discussion Thursday to present perspectives on Minnesota forest management.
The conference was held in the St. Paul campus’ Earle Brown Center. Among the different perspectives given on the issue were from a conservationist and a lumber company president. About 200 people attended the discussion of the future of white pine forests in Minnesota.
Lee Frelich, a panelist and research associate in the University’s Department of Forest Resources, said that in the late 1800s, there were more than 3.5 million acres of white pine in Minnesota, but today only 2 to 10 percent of those remain.
White pines have been severely depleted by the lumber industry, deer grazing and white pine blister rust, a disease that can kill the tree.
The conference focused on the best way to preserve the trees. Another key issue was finding a balance between the needs of the timber industry and the conservation and regrowth of the trees.
“We need to have a flow of timber and biological diversity,” Frelich said. “We must know more about ecosystem processes.”
Kim Chapman, a panelist and an ecologist at the Nature Conservancy, a conservation group, laid out a white pine preservation plan he called, “the conservation toolbox.”
“We need ecosystem-based management and full-cost accounting,” Chapman said. “The cost of regenerating a white pine tree should be included in cutting down a white pine tree.”
Jack Rajala, a panelist and president of Rajala Timber and Lumber Companies, gave his view on the economic value of white pine and his company’s planting efforts.
Rajala said the white pine was a tremendously valuable commercial species and is often used for doors, furniture and floors.
Rajala gave a slide presentation to emphasize his dedication to regenerating the white pine in Minnesota.
“I don’t believe natural regeneration has worked,” Rajala said.
He said that bud capping — wrapping paper around specific buds on a tree — can go a long way in preventing deer from eating the buds and killing the tree.
“I believe there will be enough (white pine) trees so we can hug them and use them at the same time,” Rajala said.
Duane Hanson, a panelist and natural resources team leader at the Superior National Forest, spoke on the importance of the white pine tree to the federal park, calling it “an integral part of the forest ecosystem.”
Hanson also said that a proposed moratorium on cutting down white pine trees was not the answer.
“I believe that a hands-off policy will continue in the decline of the species,” he said.
After the panel members gave their presentations, the audience was invited to participate in a mediated discussion.
Mark Stennes, a private plant pathologist, was angry about the panel’s unanimous stand on cutting the white pine tree.
“How is it possible that further cutting could help?” Stennes asked.
The panel members agreed that none of the primary (original and uncut) forests should be cut, but said that much of the existing forest is secondary (previously cut) growth.