View From The Woods 2021

From the Director’s Desk

Hello all, and welcome to the latest Year in Review update. Although Covid-19 still impacted activities at CFC and HWRC, it was a more normal year than 2020. We hosted several undergraduate courses, new and continuing research, and reacquainted ourselves with 5th graders from Carlton County and Duluth through youth education programming. We also used the time to update facilities at both CFC and HWRC in anticipation of increased visitor use in the future. In many ways much of what we do every year is targeted towards the future; experiential education for children; new kiosks and signage at forest access points, site preparation for next year’s research, presenting cooperators with operational options for adapting to climate change and solidifying dates for 2022 outreach programs. In these ways, and many others, we have been preparing for the next time you come to visit us. As you read through this Year in Review ask yourself how you know the CFC and HWRC, and think about the next time you will come to visit.

Sincerely,
Andrew David, Director, Cloquet Forestry Center and Hubachek Wilderness Research Center

The Return of Youth Education

Spring brought warm weather and the sounds and sites of children playing, investigating, and learning at the CFC. We were able to end the Spring 2021 school year with a few class field trips to get back into the swing of youth education after a year off. Field trips were focused on soils, the rock cycle, and fun activities designed to meet Minnesota Science Standards and get kids outdoors, learning in nature’s classroom.

Summer brought back Forestry Adventure Days (FAD), a program established in 2014, providing two-day environmental learning opportunities for area youth. Participants are immersed in the forest through wagon rides, building natural boats and racing them down Otter Creek, and exploring new features built by affiliates of the UMN Department of Landscape Architecture along the Esker Trail.

With the fall came Conservation Education Days for Carlton County, a program established in 1968, and Duluth Forestry Field Days, established in 1983. Both programs invite area  5th grade students for a day of open-air learning about natural resources and outdoor skills from local subject experts.

students balancing on cut tree trunks in woods
A new forest feature along the Esker Trail, created by Karen Lutsky and her collaborators with the UMN Department of Landscape Architecture, adds a new element of adventure for area youth participating in Forestry Adventure Days, July 2021.

2021 Highlights by Program

CFC Facilities

The CFC reopened its doors and welcomed back the public on August 2, 2021. While meeting facility use has not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels, we were able to host the UMN Dept. of Forest Resources Advanced Student Field Session in May with all eight students living on campus and attending in-person classes. The Introductory Student Field Session brought 20 students and several instructors to the CFC for three weeks in August and 22 new students attended an overnight orientation in October. 

students and instructor standing in research field
Students discuss forest stewardship options with UMN Dept. of Forest Resources faculty and CFC staff as part of a field practicum during the Advanced Student Field Session, May 2021.

The CFC saw another busy summer with several UMN researchers lodging and working in and around the forest. We were also able to accommodate researchers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and DePaul University (Chicago, IL).

Upgrades to facilities continued throughout 2021 with a new coat of paint applied to many of the buildings including inside the dormitories, Classroom and Administration Building (CAB) restrooms, and exterior of the Forest Management & Research (FMR) cabin. A new septic system was added in 2020 and the finishing touches were completed in 2021 including new sidewalks around the lodging units and resurfacing of the UMN Extension office parking lot and several other areas throughout the campus. We’ve also posted some additional wayfinding signage in the Classroom and Administration Building to help orient our visitors. 

snow covered cabin surrounded by tall pine tress
Fresh snow and new paint on the exterior of the Forest Management and Research cabin, December 2021. The cabin was built in 1935 and is currently used as staff office space.

Forest Management & Research

Being good stewards of the land at the UMN Experimental Forests over the long term requires systematic documentation of our actions on the land. Every year we have new projects that start and many that build off of work that was started years or decades before. In 2020, our first systematic year-end project check-in confirmed that we had 57 projects with activity. During December 2021, we reached out to 88 project contacts to get their year-end status updates. 

In our project records data management system, ‘projects’ are designated as being research, teaching/education/outreach, management, case-study/demonstration/monitoring, or other. For a project to be approved, some aspect of it needs to be aimed at building understanding of northern forest ecosystems and/or society’s role in their stewardship. Our records at CFC go back to 1911, when the weather station was initiated. The project tracking procedure is set up so that both now and in the year 2111 we know what we have been up to across the Experimental Forests land base. If you have questions about past projects, there is a good chance we can answer them either through searching our digital records, by connecting you to the UMN Archives, or digging into our file cabinets.

Bringing fire to portions of the CFC forest through prescribed burning is a project we’ve been working towards for a few years now. It is a multifaceted project that will support forest ecosystem health and wellbeing, gathering opportunities for both humans and other animals, and many research and teaching opportunities. And while we did not quite have the weather and personnel to get fire on the ground at the CFC in 2021, a couple of our staff had the opportunity to assist The Nature Conservancy, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Chippewa National Forest with their spring 2021 prescribed burning. During the summer and fall, we continued to do on-the-ground and administrative preparations at the CFC. We’re continuing to develop our collaborative relationship with Fond du Lac Resource Management Division, The Nature Conservancy, and Forest Stewards Guild to safely return fire to the forest. 

We are not proposing prescribed fire at this time for HWRC. But both HWRC and CFC are embedded within fire-adapted landscapes (z.umn.edu/livingwithfire) so we take catastrophe-prevention efforts by Firewising our buildings, grounds, and roadways. We encourage you to consider doing the same! 

- Kyle GillUMN Forester and Research Coordinator

man walking along forest road with torch conducting a prescribed fire
Lane Johnson, CFC Research Forester, using a drip torch to light a surface fire along a fireline under mature red pine on the Chippewa National Forest. This was part of the US Forest Service’s prescribed burn operations last spring. The Nature Conservancy and CFC staff assisted on the Two Pines prescribed burn east of Cass Lake on May 8th.

Hubachek Wilderness Research Center (HWRC)

2021 was both quiet and busy at HWRC. Along with continuing pandemic restrictions came moderate-to-severe drought over the course of the summer and fall seasons. HWRC staff coped with the threat of forest fire, increasing our vigilance and completing additional Firewise forest fuels mitigation during the smoky summer. By late August we were watching the progress of the Quetico Park fires to the north and Greenwood Fire to the south, breathing a sigh of relief every time nearby lightning strikes failed to start new, closer fires. For the first time, HWRC provided a week of housing and meeting space in August for part of the interagency wildfire incident management team. 

For a new long-term project, researchers set up monitoring plots and took initial vegetation inventories in small black ash stands. With the lack of rain, they found pockets of soil filled with ash germinants where pools of water would be typical. The B4WarmED climate change project was challenged to keep its spring-planted seedlings alive as summer progressed. Individuals from our local bird population banded as part of the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) project in June and July appeared to be doing just fine.

Two major facilities improvements were accomplished. A second water well was drilled and will be connected before next summer. The Lodge is now backed by a new boulder retaining wall that replaced an old log wall which had begun to fail. 

At the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), documentation and scanning of the Ahlgren Herbarium formerly housed at HWRC moved steadily forward. Specimens were accessioned into the Olga Lakela Herbarium and incorporated into the online Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas. Half of that work has been accomplished through an LCCMR grant, with equipment on loan from the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum. HWRC will be seeking additional support to complete the project.

rock retaining wall along road behind several cabins
The new stone retaining wall installed behind the HWRC lodge, November 2021.

Minnesota Tree Improvement Cooperative (MTIC)

The big news for the Minnesota Tree Improvement Cooperative was the mid-year departure of Tree Improvement Specialist Julie Hendrickson. Cooperators and CFC staff both thanked her for her service and wished her well.

The summer seed orchard visits were held to help cooperators predict seed crops, prioritize their tree improvement activities for 2022, and answer any questions they had related to seed orchard management, seed collection and storage, and seedling establishment. In response to increasing temperatures and less predictable summer precipitation, many of the cooperators are considering ways to incorporate more hardwoods, especially oaks, into their planting regimes. As simple as that sounds, it is difficult to secure seed and find a nursery to grow hardwood seedlings on a regular basis. This is especially true since, unlike conifer seeds, oak acorns cannot be stored more than one winter before they have to be sown. Additionally, they are more expensive to grow on a per seedling basis.

The flip side to planting different species, like oak, in response to climate change is to search among existing species to identify families and individuals that are better adapted to climate change.  We are going to try this approach and use the second-generation white spruce plantings to identify white spruce families and individuals that are better at tolerating warmer temperatures.  If the methodology is sound we may be able to use it in our jack pine and possibly some red pine genetic trials.

pine cones on table cut in half
Using the cut cone technique to assess seed ripeness in an eastern white pine cone.

Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative (SFEC)

Based at the CFC since 2000, the Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative engages Minnesota’s professional land and natural resources managers to build understanding, together, of northern forest ecosystems. This year we brought UMN faculty, land managers, Extension specialists, and community members together to explore solutions to some of our most pressing socio-ecological problems. The best environmental solutions involve people and nature working together to not only meet our current needs, but to maintain the capacity of social and ecological systems to meet our needs in the future. 

An example: We are not used to thinking of carbon as a forest product. But as our understanding of relationships between forest growth and atmospheric carbon grows, we are changing that thinking. We know that trees are made of carbon, and that growing trees pull carbon from the atmosphere. This fall at the CFC, and online, we discussed opportunities to improve the ability of forests to serve as a natural solution to our climate change challenges through active forest management, and to get paid for those carbon benefits through carbon offset markets. Programming like this can help public and private landowners maximize the environmental benefits their woods provide while also meeting our need for local renewable wood products, recreational amenities, clean water, wildlife habitat, and the many other goods and services. 

As an educational co-operative, we are grateful for the community that sustains us. Our members include county land departments, soil and water conservation districts, wood products companies, tribal natural resource agencies, state agencies, national forests, and others. The Cloquet Forestry Center is the perfect place to bring this community together, along with UMN faculty and Extension specialists, to learn from one another.

several people standing in semi-circle on road in the woods
Discussing forest management, carbon,and carbon offset markets at a 2021 CFC tour.

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 CFC Visitor Guide and Forest Map on our Recreation page. Information on 2022 nordic ski trails are also on the Recreation page and can be accessed directly here.

person Nordic skiing on trail through woods
CFC staff will be grooming roughly 9km of classic ski trail this winter as snow conditions and time allow.

Experimental Forest Technical Notes

Experimental Forest Technical Notes are a new way to learn more about CFC-HWRC research and management results.