white-cedar-tree
Forests. Old-growth white cedar trees. © Derek Montgomery

Stories in Minnesota

Protecting and Restoring the Northwoods

Minnesota’s trees and forests enrich our lives in so many ways. Beyond their visual splendor, they provide shade, wildlife habitat and places to walk, bike, hunt and enjoy the outdoors. They are nature’s own water purification system, absorbing pollutants and trapping sediment before they damage lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for hundreds and even thousands of years. They also provide timber products, food and medicine, and generate jobs and economic opportunities.

Like other forests in North America, however, Minnesota’s forests are in trouble.  Due in part to turn-of-the-century logging, slash burning, wildfires and modern harvesting practices, they have become greatly simplified in the diversity of tree species and age. This makes our forests less resilient and more vulnerable to stresses like invasive species, disease and insect infestations and changes in the climate.

The Nature Conservancy is working with forest managers, government and other decision-makers in Minnesota to: 1) help set forest conservation priorities for the next 20 years, 2) make forests in the Northwoods more resilient to climate change and other stresses through targeted restoration and protection and 3) expand the scale of forest restoration and protection by helping to develop good policies and plans for public forest lands and increasing funding for forest restoration.

An Old-Growth Forest We joined forces with renowned Polar explorer Will Steger to protect an old-growth forest in Minnesota.

A Mosaic of Trees

We are working with partners to help bring back white pine and other long-lived conifers to Minnesota’s Northwoods, benefiting both the forest and forestry. That means planting conifer seedlings, protecting them from deer and pruning young trees to discourage diseases like blister rust. Selective logging of large areas can also play a role by mimicking natural disturbances that create openings for new generations of trees yet avoid older and increasingly rare native trees that serve as sources of seed.

Over time, these practices will create a mosaic of trees in all growth stages, producing a range of habitats like that found in nature. More habitats mean the forest can support more kinds of Northwoods species like moose, pine marten, Canada lynx, northern goshawk and spruce grouse. More variety in forest trees also means a wider range of forest products. Forestry operations can produce non-traditional products such as balsam boughs as well as pulp products.

No one organization or landowner can accomplish this work alone.

We are partnering with the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Forest Service and Lake County in the Upper Manitou Forest landscape to manage the forest as a whole rather than strictly by ownership boundaries.