Lake and Cook County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) combined boots-on-the-ground efforts with cost-sharing to ensure conservation projects designed to help restore the North Shore Forest as part of a Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership (LRP).
“Forestry assistance for private landowners has been more difficult for people in this area to gain access to,” Sarah Poznanovic of the U.S. Forest Service in Superior National Forest, Tofte Ranger District, said.
“The local SWCDs were able to provide contributions of cost-share assistance and conservation core time in order to implement projects that probably would not have been completed otherwise through the Joint Chiefs’ LRP,” Poznanovic said.
The Lake Superior North Shore Coastal Forest Restoration Project worked to expand restoration efforts of the North Shore Forest Collaborative (NSFC) to protect the water quality of Lake Superior, provide critical wildlife habitat and develop a resilient ecosystem for the future.
That included tree planting projects and cages used to deter herbivore browse, and restoration of long-lived conifers that promote forest resilience, habitat and a healthy watershed.
It also included funding through a partnership with the NRCS and the Forest Service to hire Poznonovic as a forester, which made it possible to assist the districts with projects. SWCD staff made contact with private landowners and, often with Poznanovic, informed them of conservation and restoration programs and options, organized crews and implemented plans on their property. Often, these partnership projects did not qualify for EQIP funding.
Partnership funding varied over the three-year project, with $100,000 awarded in 2015, $187,500 in 2016 and $178,000 last year.
“Landowners are still coming,” Mitch Lundeen, a forester overseeing Lake and Cook County SWCDs, said. “It was a lot more seamless, but now staff are picking up that role and getting trained further on the forestry practices. Sarah helped staff get a better understanding of tree establishment in an already established forest site or an area with a forest health problem.”
“It’s boots-on-the-ground, and I think it helps the peer-to-peer, neighbor-to-neighbor, and a lot of times it grows from there,” Lundeen said.
Part of the partnership also included cost-share dollars set aside for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to engage in outreach opportunities to bring the importance of forestry to a broader audience.
“We are getting the word out we’re doing this together,” Thor Pakosz, private lands forester with Minnesota DNR Forestry, said. “Because of the Joint Chiefs’ funding there is more cooperation between the various land management agencies in the spirit of facilitating the work on private lands, and hopefully this will continue.”
The DNR organized activities targeted toward private landowners so they are better educated and understand more completely the benefits of forestry, timber, harvesting and restoration.
“Forestry serves the ecosystem,” Pakosz said. “People are not always aware of that. We are maintaining the landscape cooperatively, and we’re making a tremendous contribution that way; keeping waters cooler and moderating turbidity, we’re making a strong contribution to other resources, such as fisheries, water quality and tourism. It’s something that can go unnoticed.”
The watersheds of Lake Superior’s coastal forests are home to tributaries that impact the water quality of the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for 45 million people and habitat for a vast array of plants and wildlife, including more than 200 globally rare species. The streams and forests provide critical ecological services, such as water filtration, flood control and carbon storage, and are critical in the region’s opportunities for industry, tourism and recreation.
Other LRP partners included Sugarloaf: The North Shore Stewardship Association; Grand Portage Tribal Council; and The Nature Conservancy.