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Outdoor Notes for March 4

Bill Marchel1 / 2
A wood duck drake in flight low against marsh background. Photo by Bill Marchel2 / 2

Marchel wins January Nikonians photo contest

Local wildlife photographer and writer Bill Marchel has won the January 2018 Nikonians Wildlife Photography Contest. The monthly theme was "Flight." Marchel won with his colorful image of a male wood duck in flight. Nikonians is the largest online site in the world for Nikon cameras users, spanning 140 countries. The site garners over 10 million-page views per month and more than 40,000 visits daily.

Marchel is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications, including the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.

Citizens making a difference on Upper Hay Lake

In 2007 and 2008, Upper Hay Lake looked to be degrading. After mid-July in both years, lake clarity was dropping dropped around 15 feet early in the year to an average of less than 4.5 feet. Blue green algae growth was likely being fueled by high concentrations of phosphorus. The state standard for phosphorus for lakes in this ecoregion to be considered impaired, or failing to meet the standard for aquatic recreation, is no more than 30 micrograms per liter. In September of 2007, Upper Hay registered 58 micrograms per liter. In June of 2008, it registered 40. Claire Steen knew something needed to be done to protect the lake and reverse the trend and reached out to the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District for help.

In 2014, Steen, the president of the Upper Hay Lake Association, applied for and was awarded a Community Partners Grant from the SWCD. Grant dollars come from Clean Water Legacy funds. The purpose is to pass it on to groups with projects that reduce and treat stormwater runoff using native vegetation. Upper Hay proposed to install native vegetative buffers behind coir logs, to protect the shoreline, plus infiltrate and treat runoff. Their plan by design intercepting the phosphorus before it reached the lake and fed algae production, that is also self-sustaining, resilient, and pollinator friendly.

With help from Crow Wing SWCD, seven shoreline buffers were designed and installed that year, with an additional two added later. Since then, two more have been added for 11 buffers total on the lake, nine of which have been paid for in part with the Community Partners grant money.

Steen recalls that the initial installations were fragile for awhile.

"The buffers took some time to establish because just a couple of weeks after we had the first ones installed a big storm hit and damaged much of the vegetation we had planted." Steen said "But the coir logs held and kept the shorelines from falling apart."

The water level in the lake reached 1232.41 feet in 2014; a record high level for Upper Hay lake; and roughly a foot above its average. High water levels increase erosion through wave action, and can damage shoreline vegetation that otherwise holds the shore soils together.

The buffers have generally received approval from the lake residents.

"Most people feel that the buffers have been beneficial and are working well. We were concerned about too much phosphorus going into our lake and the buffers seem to help, and with the coir logs are definitely reducing erosion," Steen said, adding some residents have gone over and above with adding to their shoreline restorations, or taking data to help ensure success.

"Cindy Rick, who really believes in the native plant buffers, has done three or four restorations on her shoreline, and Dale Harwell kept records of water levels on his shoreline for many years so that he knew exactly where to plant to ensure that the buffer wouldn't wash out." Steen said. Steen hopes that more buffers will be installed in the coming year, but for now, the ones that have been installed seem to have had a positive effect; during the entire year of 2016, the secchi disk reading for the lake was better, just under 6 feet at its peak, and all but that one reading were at 2 meters or greater, with most over 3 meters. Although phosphorus data has not been gathered since 2011, typically the secchi readings are an effective proxy for phosphorus levels, and the signs in Upper Hay Lake are very good.

For a moderately shallow lake (maximum depth 42 feet) with a significant amount of development, increasing clarity indicates the improvements phosphorus runoff has decreased, as has algae production. However, more needs to be done to maintain the trend; replacing critical areas of grass lawns with buffers and planting into and behind rock riprap. Despite the continuing issues, it appears the restored areas are thus far are moving things in the right direction.

Areas that had vegetation removed many years ago have experienced noticeable erosion of shorelines, and this lost shoreline cannot be regained. However, the implementation of the shoreline buffers is a great step to ensure that the losses of the past do not continue into the future.

DNR increases 10-year sustainable timber harvest target

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced it has set a new 10-year sustainable timber harvest at 870,000 cords offered for sale annually from DNR-managed forest lands. This represents an 8.75 percent increase in the harvest target.

The DNR will also launch a special five-year initiative that could offer up to 30,000 additional cords of ash and tamarack in response to the threat posed by emerald ash borer and eastern larch beetle, two invasive species that kill ash and tamarack trees.

The DNR manages 5 million acres of forest lands — 29 percent of the state's total forest lands. Timber harvesting occurs on 2.75 million acres of DNR-managed lands that are in state forests, wildlife management areas, and school and university trust lands. These lands provide about 30 percent of the state's wood supply for a forest products industry that employs 64,000 people and has a $17.1 billion annual economic impact.

The new sustainable harvest was determined after more than a year of scientific analysis, discussions with stakeholders—including conservation organizations and the forest industry—and public input.

"The DNR conducted a rigorous analysis of our state's sustainable timber supply. We are confident this new harvest level strikes the right balance between the needs of clean water, wildlife, the forest industry, and recreation," said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, in a news release. "This decision reflects careful consideration of the multitude of uses, habitat needs and ecological benefits that come from DNR-managed forest lands."

For the past 15 years, the DNR's annual sale target has been 800,000 cords of timber. Given that forests are dynamic, ever-changing systems, it was time to do a new, full-scale assessment of the timber harvest levels.

In 2016, Gov. Mark Dayton called for an updated assessment to ensure DNR forest management meets the state's goals of commercial timber production, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, clean water, and recreation.

The DNR sells a variety of tree species from the land it manages, including aspen, red, white, and jack pine, maple, red and white oak, ash, white and black spruce, cedar, and tamarack.

Over the past two decades, the DNR has worked to reduce an oversupply of older-aged aspen on DNR-managed forest lands. That oversupply has been largely eliminated and these lands now have a more desired age distribution of aspen that will support valuable wildlife populations and water quality. As a result, future aspen harvest levels will gradually decrease from 400,000 cords annually to 360,000 cords. However, harvest of some other species will increase.

The final report and more information about the analysis are posted on the DNR's project webpage at www.mndnr.gov/forestry/harvest-analysis.

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