Forests of the Future (Minnesota)
Nature Conservance [Magazine] June/July, 2014, p. 18.
The Nature Conservancy
Arlington, VA
Original Date

This brief note is based on a fact sheet available on The Nature Conservancy Website, titled "Adaptation Forestry in Minnesota’s Northwoods." See separate entry in this bibliography.

Charles Forbes wrote the following Letter to the Editor in regard to this article:

Re: Forests of the Future, Nature Conservancy, June/July 2014, p. 18.

While the beautiful paper birch (commonly thought of as white birch) have been an important part of the North Woods in the lifetimes of those alive today, their abundant presence is not part of the natural landscape, but of two cataclysmic events of the late 19th and early 20 centuries: massive logging followed by extensive fire. If fact there is some evidence that not just open sunny areas, as created by logging, but the heat of fire is necessary for extensive propagation of paper birch.

That they are fading from the landscape today is a nature event, as the normal lifetime of these trees is about a century, and most of the paper birch in the North Woods are that old. Yes, they are dying of birch blight, birch borers, and perhaps of drier weather. But most would survive these conditions if they were young, vigorous trees, but they are not.

The Forest Service in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has experimented with trying to propagate the paper birch because of its beauty and association with the North Woods by present visitors and residents of the area: with not much success.

Efforts to plant seedlings of a variety of species that will thrive in the North Woods with its anticipated climate change are important. But the loss of the paper birch should not be cited as a reason; its loss is a logical result of the events of the last century and a half, unrelated to climate change.

Charles Forbes Star Lake, Wisconsin [In the heart of the North Woods]

  • Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake

Paper birch trees once lined Lake Superior's north shore in Minnesota. Now, after years of drier-that-normal weather, many of those birches are dead. It's a sobering sight for locals and a "wake-up call," says Meredith Cornett. The Nature Conservancy's science director in Minnesota.

Cornet and her team have begun an experiment meant to help spare other forests the same fate. Over the past two springs, the team planted 88,000 tree seedlings across 2,000 acres in the northeastern corner of the state. The seedlings consisted of species that should survive better in a warmer and drier climate--trees, such as red oak, found in higher numbers just south of the area.

For a team accustomed to restoring forests to match historical landscapes, helping the North Woods adapt to a predicted future climate is a new but necessary idea, Cornett says. "All of our modeling is saying the same thing," she adds. "We needed someone to actually go out and start trying some of this stuff."