BACKUS-Cass County's practice of selling timber from tracts of tax-forfeited and county-owned land scattered around the county is paying off in a variety of ways, Land Commissioner Kirk Titus said in his annual report to the county board Tuesday, March 19.

Most notably, aspen tracts sold 40 years ago and allowed to regenerate now have high-quality, mature aspen the county can begin offering for sale anew, he said. Much of the original cutting in the last 40 years has been on over-mature 60- or 80-year-old aspen, which had not been managed for maximum quality.

Commissioner Jeff Peterson offered his viewpoint that the recently cut, more open timber sale plots are keeping the deer alive in this deep snow winter. The deer can move around more easily and can reach the young regenerating trees for feed, he said.

The land department generated 46 percent of its income from timber sales in 2018 or $1,908,160. The land department's biggest expense (49 percent) was the $1,720,188 distribution of revenue generated from tax-forfeited land to reforestation, the county general fund, trails, townships, cities and schools. The department sold $511,733 worth of nonconservation land in 2018, and using a Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council state grant, purchased $401,971 worth of critical habitat land adjacent to existing county-managed land. Cass' land purchases, using the grant money included 160 acres in Birch Lake Township and 40 acres in Bull Moose Township.

The total revenue ran $4,193,245 and expenses, $3,494,209. Expenses were up about 6 percent over 2017, Titus said.

Cass sold timber from 90 tracts of land at monthly auctions and over the counter in 2018 from 3,206.4 acres of land, generating an average of $27,080.96 per tract. The vast majority (1,898.8 cords) was aspen, which averaged $36.76 per cord. Aspen hit a peak price in 2005 of over $70 per cord, then dropped in 2007 to under $30 per cord, where it remained until 2015. Now, prices have stabilized between $35 and $40 per cord, Titus said.

The next highest volume of tree species Cass sells is red oak. It averaged $37.88 per cord in 2018, down from $48.57 in 2016. Loggers paid the highest 2018 average prices for red pine bolts ($47.47 per cord) and red pine bolts and pulp ($54.25 per cord). They paid the least ($7.38 per cord) for the 161 cords of tamarack sold.

At the county's Feb. 28 auction this year, Cass sold 3,141 cords of wood from five tracts for $112,068. Aspen sold for $38.60 per cord. Red oak sold for $33.82 per cord. The land department also issued 30 permits to individuals to cut firewood after recent timber sales were completed, generating an additional $1,635.28.

Thirty nonconservation parcels totaling 317 acres were sold. They either have no public access, public access surrounded by private property, were platted land or isolated acreage. Parcels are available for sale at the land department in Backus year-round and at an annual auction, usually in June.

Cass has $4,947,891 in a conservation trust fund. It was created by selling state-leased lots between 1998 and 2000. The county cannot use the principal in the fund, but may spend the interest it earns on projects to improve the county's natural resources. The fund has earned $2,312,792.35 interest since 2001. Interest earned in 2018 was $94,971.45.

Some of the projects the county board has approved for using this revenue include matching funds for building multi-use recreational trails throughout the county and the replacement fishing pier at Hackensack.

As a member of the Association of County Land Commissioners, Cass received $2,665 from a gas tax distribution for forest road management, which the county used for grading, culvert repair and replacement, adding gravel and brushing. Cass received $224,131 from the state grant-in-aid recreational trails fund generated from recreational vehicle and snowmobile license sales, cross-country ski tags and non-highway gas tax.

The county has four snowmobile and two all-terrain vehicle clubs, plus one cross-country ski club, which use this fund to maintain the county's trail system. The county provides assistance to clubs with some matching dollars for grants and bidding their projects. The match normally is about 35 percent of total cost. There are 773 miles of county recreational trails.

The county granted three easements across county-managed land in 2018 to enable people to reach their privately owned properties.

Cass has 252,580 acres of tax-forfeited land and 4,361 acres of fee-owned land. All are Forest Stewardship Council standard-certified as being sustainably managed and have been after annual audits since 2001. No nonconformance was found in the 2018 audit.

The county contracted to have 11.5 miles of property line between county-owned/managed land surveyed in 2018 and posted the property lines at a $76,935 cost.

Tuesday, March 19, the county board approved contracts with surveyors to survey property lines at five locations along county land. Stonemark Land Surveying Inc. had the low bids at $18,800 for a Bungo Township site and at $4,400 for a Homebrook Township site. Lakes Area Surveying had the low bids at $4,700 for a Pine River Township site, $7,450 for a McKinley Township site, $6,800 for a Becker Township site and $6,400 for a Crooked Lake Township site.