View From The Woods 2020

From The Director’s Desk

Andrew David

COVID, COVID, COVID. It would be impossible to review 2020 without mentioning the impact the virus has had on our operations. We were forced to create, implement, and work under new COVID-19 safety protocols and we have adapted admirably. Despite a moratorium on group meetings, our summer teaching and research efforts went on as planned. In the midst of the pandemic we obtained permission to rehire a Program Specialist for SFEC, and with permission from Provost Croson, the Forest Resources August Field Session was one of the first in-person courses to be offered anywhere in the University system. When the governor encouraged people to get outside, we kept the forest open and rebuilt entrance kiosks with new forest maps and visitor information. We used the time with low guest numbers to paint classrooms, hallways, and buildings and are now painting the dorms. Truly, this year has been a challenge for all of us and I am extremely proud of the way we have approached each challenge with clear vision and dedication to discover new ways to advance our mission.

-Andy David, CFC and HWRC Director of Operations

The CFC-HWRC Connection

From the 1980s onward there have been research projects with complementary study areas at the CFC and HWRC. Since 2009, endowed Hubachek chair and Regents Professor Peter Reich, and his colleagues, have conducted an intensive experimental project called B4WarmED (or B4W), short for Boreal Forest (4) Warming at an Ecotone in Danger. The open-air project is designed to assess how Minnesota’s near-boreal tree species could respond to a warming climate. The study involves two intensively studied research sites at the CFC and HWRC where experimental plantings of 10,000 saplings from 16 different native trees have been growing under elevated air and soil temperatures, and reduced precipitation, for over a decade. To date, the B4W project has resulted in over 30 refereed scientific articles reporting an array of research findings. Of note, Reich and others have discovered that native spruce and fir trees characteristic of Minnesota’s Northwoods are vulnerable to projected changes in regional climate while oaks and maples will grow better in the Northwoods in a warmer world. This past summer, the B4W project was highlighted in an interactive Washington Post article about climate change and forest adaptation research in northern Minnesota.

for warming and monitoring devices above a green plot of vegetation with snow surrounding the rest of the area
Late autumn snow shows the elevated air and soil temperatures in a B4WarmED experimental plot.

60 Years at the Cloquet Forestry Center: The Center’s Work, People, and Life from 1960 to 2020   by Clare Boerigter

This past summer Clare Boerigter, a UMN Master of Fine Arts student, undertook a sprawling effort to explore, summarize, and compile visual documentation of the last 60 years of research, education, and outreach at CFC and HWRC. She settled on telling four stories. Clare’s collection of stories are companion pieces to another retrospective written by Professor Thorvald Schantz-Hansen circa 1960 titled 50 Years at the Cloquet Forest Research Center.

Two women with masks on sitting at a picnic table looking over old photos and documents
Sheri Dochat shares historical family photos with author Clare Boerigter at the HWRC.

2020 Highlights by Program

CFC Facilities

While the pandemic closed CFC’s doors to non-UMN groups, several UMN researchers were still able to lodge on-site while working on field projects in and around the forest, making for a convenient and safe environment to accomplish their work. We also held the UMN Dept. of Forest Resources annual summer student field session in August. Despite having to follow strict COVID-19 safety protocols, 12 of 17 undergraduate students chose to live on-site the full 3 weeks of the field session providing them a complete experiential learning opportunity.

logs laid out on the ground with students lined up looking at them and listening to an instructor speak
Research Assistant Professor Chris Edgar, UMN Dept. of Forest Resources, shows students how to measure the timber volume of a red pine during the August field session at CFC.


Mark Hagen joined CFC as Buildings and Grounds staff in March. Mark brought with him many great carpentry skills and a wealth of knowledge on all things paint, stain, and wood. Simon Clark, our Senior Buildings and Grounds specialist, retired in December. Simon’s institutional knowledge and dedication to CFC will be missed. We’re thankful for his years of service at CFC working behind the scenes to make our programs a success.  

Currently, UMN staff are largely in a work-from-home status until the end of June. The CFC Administrative Office will remain closed throughout this time. We can host small meetings up to 25 people as long as COVID-19 safety precautions are followed. Catering is still available through a new business partnership between Jim Vnuk with Jim N Jo's Katering and co-lessees, Paul Sapyta and Kevin Johnson with Room at the Table Catering & Bakery.

Forest Management & Research

The forest management and research group exists to make sure the Experimental Forests can support the natural resources research, education, and demonstration goals. Lane, Rachael, Beckie, and I do this by working with the forest, making forest and data stewardship decisions, and supporting the work of University researchers and students.

What would forest management for the understory look like? This question arose while considering Burn Plan objectives in Camp 8. Surface fire renewal will promote fire-loving species like blueberry and young pines. This may come at a cost of saying “thank you and farewell” to some of our charismatic old pines. However, this approach is guided by the practices of Indigenous land stewards that shaped our fire-dependent forest types, and will support system health moving forward. This reflects a bias-shift for me from “forest” meaning “trees” to “community”. This inclusive perspective of trees, shrubs, grasses, fungi, soil, animals (such as humans), and disturbance processes (such as fire) guides my approach to leading Experimental Forest stewardship. The CFC burn plan was one part of 42 projects worked on during 2020.  

- Kyle Gill, Forest Manager & Research Coordinator

a UTV on a path that has been cleared through the forest to create fireline
Staff with The Nature Conservancy’s Fire Management Office in Cushing, MN spent three days in September lending their expertise in fireline construction at CFC in support of future prescribed fire operations.


Hubachek Wilderness Research Center (HWRC)

On the whole, it was a quiet summer season for research, education, and outreach at HWRC. Under restricted access and following strict pandemic safety guidelines, the B4WarmED climate change research group continued its experimental work at HWRC as well as CFC. The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) project adjusted procedures to safely continue bird banding and data collection during the breeding season, June to early August. Other projects and classes were postponed or cancelled. 

The transition of the Cliff and Isabel Ahlgren Herbarium, once housed at HWRC, to the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Olga Lakela Herbarium is gradually moving forward. Over 5,000 plant specimens are in the process of being integrated into the Lakela Herbarium and digitized for online access through the Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas. As of mid-December 2020, a quick search for the Ahlgrens’ specimens in the Biodiversity Atlas resulted in over 2,000 records from multiple Minnesota herbaria, along with thousands of other specimens collected in northeast Minnesota by Olga Lakela and others.

Spinulose Wood Fern samples documented in the MN Biodiversity Atlas
A spinulose wood fern voucher from the University of Minnesota Herbarium collected by Cliff Ahlgren, Research Scientist with the Quetico-Superior Wilderness Research Center in August 1950, Crooked Lake, Superior National Forest, MN.


Minnesota Tree Improvement Cooperative (MTIC)

The Minnesota Tree Improvement Cooperative (MTIC) has been selecting and breeding trees to produce seedlings with faster growth, better form, and disease resistance for 39 years. We have improvement programs for native conifers including red pine, white pine, jack pine, white spruce, black spruce, and tamarack, and hope to incorporate additional species in response to climate change.  We work with 17 state, county, tribal, and private industry cooperators to establish and manage seed orchards that produce a genetically diverse, locally adapted seed supply for their reforestation programs. Our 2020 highlights include the analysis of 2nd generation white spruce population data and a Fall workshop in a member orchard.

Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative (SFEC)

Our job at SFEC is to help the people who care for and manage Minnesota’s natural resources build and share their knowledge. Our programs keep Minnesota resource managers connected to UMN faculty and foster an ongoing exchange of questions, answers, and ideas. 

Eli Sagor holding a cell phone recording Kyle Gill in the forest with three onlookers in the background
Eli Sagor, SFEC Program Coordinator, uses his phone to live-stream a forest tour with CFC Forest Manager Kyle Gill as part of a two-week module for the National Advanced Silviculture Program (NASP) typically held in-person each year at CFC.

What a crazy year it’s been. A huge positive was hiring Kaitlyn Wilson to deliver new SFEC programs while connecting forest management and wildlife habitat. Normally we do most of our education in-person, either at the CFC or somewhere in Minnesota’s Northwoods. In response to COVID-19, we have had to restructure how we deliver educational content. We have learned how to live-stream virtual forest tours, create remote learning spaces that keep hands-on learners engaged, and continue to be adaptable.

Forest Use Information For Visitors

CFC Visitor Recreation Opportunities

The CFC forest is open to public recreation that does not conflict with research activities. Our forest roads and trails are open to non-motorized recreation including: walking, birding, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Dogs are allowed on-leash. Foraging is allowed with a permit. Prohibited activities include: off-leash pets, hunting, horseback riding, camping, campfires, and motorized vehicle use. View and download a new CFC Visitor Guide and Forest Map on our Recreation page


The HWRC remains closed to public recreational use.

A kiosk at a forest entrance that is blocked by a gate
Fresh paint, new roofs, and updated signage greet forest visitors at CFC.