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Guest Opinion: Increased timber harvest on state lands is good for hunters and all Minnesotans

While Sept. 15 was the official date of the small game—and ruffed grouse—hunting season opener, it is the cooler weather and changing colors of leaves that gets my blood stirring. As it becomes more comfortable to walk in the woods and the leaves make my quarry more visible, my mind inevitably wanders towards time afield—for grouse, deer or other forest wildlife.

As always, hunters will find mixed success this year. Grouse numbers appear down, duck numbers should be good, and deer numbers should be very good. Much of this variability is due to weather and fluctuates year to year. But the good news for hunters in Minnesota's forestlands is that long-term prospects should be outstanding.

Many of the woodland game species we pursue—especially ruffed grouse, woodcock and deer—depend to a large extent on young forest. These cover types provide excellent food and protection from predators throughout much of the year. And, no surprise, young forest is largely a result of good timber management and harvest. In that regard, the future is indeed bright.

As long as the forest products industry thrives in Minnesota, so will our healthy forests and young forest wildlife species.

The forest products industry is important to Minnesota. According to trade group Minnesota Forest Industries, it supports 28,000 jobs and contributes more than $8 billion annually to the state's economy. Timber harvests support young forest habitat important to these species.

Unknown to many is that some 30 percent of all timber brought to market comes from lands administered by the Department of Natural Resources. That comes from 24 percent of the state's timberlands, so we are squeezing out a disproportionate share of merchantable timber. While DNR manages for multiple values—think old growth, water quality and recreation—a primary benefit of these forests is economic. We put a lot of timber on the market, which in turn creates and maintains habitat that so many forest species need.

Under direction from Gov. Mark Dayton, and in consultation with a wide group of stakeholders, DNR recently reviewed and revised our target for annual timber production. Based on that analysis—called the Sustainable Timber Harvest Analysis—we will be increasing our annual harvest to 870,000 cords from 800,000 cords. We'll also make an additional 30,000 cords of ash and tamarack available — trees that will likely be lost to forest pests if not harvested. These targets accomplishes multiple goals for our forests, while ensuring a sustainable supply into the future. And, we can do this while maintaining older forests and other areas important for biodiversity, water quality, and recreation.

And this is why future prospects for forestland hunters looks so good. This target will be in effect for at least a decade. That means we will increase and maintain a great distribution across the landscape of younger forest types. We have worked hard over the past seven years to ensure we are optimizing benefits from our state's forests. This analysis, and the harvests that will ensue, will provide many benefits—economic, environmental, and recreational—for decades to come.

Landwehr is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources