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CASS COUNTY BOARD: Most of revenue comes from timber sales

WALKER — Assistant Land Commissioner Scott Noland presented the 2010 land department annual report to the county board Tuesday.

It shows 69 percent of department revenue or $1,893,591 came from timber sales. The land department paid 50 percent of its income or $1,341,021 to townships, cities, schools, reforestation, trails and the county general fund. Another 21 percent paid salary and benefits for land department employees.

The county sold 135 timber cutting contracts to loggers in 2010, enabling loggers to cut timber on 4,736.3 acres of land.

Cass sold 98,547 cords of wood for $2,155,088.01 and 151,600 board feet of pine saw timber for $19,998.11 in 2010. Not all sales are cut and fully paid in the year they are sold.

The report shows that the highest volume of timber sold was aspen, which has fluctuated in price dramatically over the last 15 years. Aspen averaged $25 to $30 per cord from 1995 to 2000, when a major rise began, peaking at over $70 per cord in 2005. Prices dropped back since 2007 to the $25 to $30 range.

Noland told the board, the land department budgets in anticipation of receiving about $25 per cord.

Cass sold 53,575 cords of aspen in 2010, followed by 13,430.5 cords of birch, 11,573 cords of red oak, 5,987 cords of maple, 4,528 cords of jackpine, 2,231 cords of basswood, 1,901 cords of balsam fir and 1,474 cords of tamarack. All other tree species sold were less than 1,000 cords.

The county has a $4,987,794.90 trust fund, created by selling state lease lots several years ago. Only interest earned on that fund can be spent. In 2010, the county used some of that interest income to help pay for recreational trail extensions near Walker and in East Gull Lake, to post signs for a bike route between Hackensack and Longville on County State Aid Highway 5 shoulders and to help Roosevelt, Lawrence, Ten Mile, Margaret and Sylvan Lake Associations conduct inspections of private sewer systems around those lakes.

The land department issues firewood-cutting permits to cut wood left by loggers after timber has been cut. Sixty-two permits were issued in 2010 for 620 cords of firewood. Persons cutting the firewood paid the county $1,550 for those permits.

The department grades recreational trails during summers and issues permits to residents who need to travel along forest access roads for trapping or hunting purposes during spring break-up or trail closure periods.

People who have no other way to reach their property may apply for an easement from the land department to cross county or county-managed state land. Three new easements and five ownership transfers were granted in 2010. Two new utility easements also were granted.

Cass received $180,596 in state aid grants and spent $254,064 on snowmobile, all terrain vehicle and cross-country ski trails in 2010. The county disburses funds to local recreation clubs to maintain the trails, working with six snowmobile, two ATV and one ski clubs in 2010.

The land department updates annually the county forest inventory, first completed in 1980. Cass holds Forest Stewardship Council certification under the SmartWood program as managing a sustainable forest and meeting other environmentally friendly management practices.

A 2010 five-year audit for re-certification was completed in 2010. Annual, less intense audits also are conducted to retain this certification.

The land department contracted in 2010 to re-establish some township land survey corners originally set in Cass between 1857 and 1871.

Tuesday, the county board authorized Noland to designate prescriptive easements across private land in 10 townships to establish permanent easements to give access to county administered or owned land. Many of these roads or trails have crossed timber company owned land. In some cases, this will consolidate multiple easements into one, he said.

None of the easements currently being established have been contested, Noland said. They lie in central and south-central Cass.

Cass County will serve as fiscal agent and provide technical support to assist Leech Lake Reservation develop plans to provide community sewers for residents in the Stony Point area east of Cass Lake and Sugar Point area on the southeast side of Leech Lake.

Environmental Services Director John Ringle said planning funding is $35,000. He said Indians and white residents live in both communities. Many have failing private sewer systems at this time.

 The Stony Point area might be able to connect to Cass Lake’s city sewer. Sugar Point would need a separate community system. Ringle expects the plans to be complete by June 30, 2012. 

Ringle obtained board approval to accept conservation easements for 14.9 acres of forest and 5.7 acres of wetlands abutting 960 feet of shoreline on Pine Mountain Lake in Powers Township and 3.7 acres of forest and 0.6 acres of wetlands abutting 651 feet of shoreline on Little Boy Lake in Wabedo Township. The board approved the city of Backus’ plan to send its city sanitary system sewage to the Pine River Treatment Plant.

Jim Schneider, probation director, obtained board approval to allow people serving probation to complete court-ordered community service by adopting sections of county highway to clean ditches.