Other Opinion: Minnesota wildlife managers must be heard
Wood vs. wildlife. That is the argument in a philosophical schism within the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
On one side are top officials in the department who seek more wood for loggers. On the other are wildlife managers who worry the push will harm wildlife.
The differences were laid out in a recent report by the Duluth News Tribune. The piece focused on a plan that calls for wildlife management areas to produce 12 percent of a new quota of 870,000 cords of wood logged each year on state lands. The quota isn’t a recent development – it was announced in 2018 – but the depth of the disagreement is. The report by the News Tribune cites a letter, signed by 28 wildlife managers and addressed to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
“Harvesting at this level of intensity jeopardizes long-term conservation of many wildlife species dependent on older forests for all or part of their life,” one wildlife manager wrote.
Other concerns from wildlife managers:
In the Crookston area, they note the plan calls for cutting 10 percent of the tamarack stands in Polk Wildlife Management Area. The managers wrote that “tamarack stands are a unique forest type in this area of Minnesota and clearcutting ... is not appropriate.”
At the Red Lake Wildlife Management Area, the concern is that “this is an astounding departure from managing to increase climate change resilience and managing for maximum production of wildlife.”
And in the Bemidji area, wildlife managers are concerned about cutting century-old oak trees. “We see absolutely no wildlife management purpose, and instead a wildlife management detriment. ...”
The quota was pushed during former Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration and is moving ahead under first-term Gov. Tim Walz. Strommen backs the plan, saying DNR analysis shows extra logging will not harm wildlife.
Yet it’s hard for us to not dwell on the words of Rich Staffon, president of the Duluth chapter of the Izaak Walton League and a former Minnesota DNR wildlife manager.
“During all of my time in the DNR, we were only allowed to do timber sales in wildlife management areas if there was a wildlife management purpose,” he told the News Tribune.
This is a tough spot: Top-level state officials are pushing a pro-business approach, while their own experts are urging against it and likely will be overruled.
Remember that some logging can be good, provided it is done with wildlife and habitat in mind. For instance, the News Tribune story notes that logging and young forests are good for some species at some times of the year.
However, at other times, larger and older trees are required, and that’s especially the case during the winter. Cutting those trees will be detrimental to wildlife, the managers say.
Apparently, there is no wildlife management purpose behind this proposal.
The bottom line is this: Logging on wildlife management areas against the wishes of the local experts – state-hired DNR staffers tasked with managing wildlife – just does not seem like prudent natural resources policy. The state must consider taking a step back and thinking about the message it is sending.