Herald Journal Columns
June 19, 2006, Herald Journal

Keeping Minnesota’s forests

By IVAN RACONTEUR

Trees are amazing things.

One can sit in the shade of a tree and think (like Mr. Newton did). If one is feeling sporty, one may even be able to climb a tree to get a better view of the world.

Trees are remarkable things on their own, but when a large number of trees over a wide area are preserved, they become something really special; they become a forest.

I was a bit spoiled growing up in northern Minnesota. I took trees for granted, because they were all around me. I never had to go far if I wanted to immerse myself in the beauty of the woods.

Today, there are times when I am sitting in an office staring at a computer, with the noise of civilization assaulting my ears, when I just have to stop.

I close my eyes and imagine that I am somewhere up north, immersed in the beauty and solitude of lakes and trees.

That, to me, is the best part of living in Minnesota.

Even though we are forced to spend far too much time earning a living, and not nearly enough time enjoying living, it is still within reach.

We may not be able to get away as often as we like, but there is hope, because we know it is out there; the natural beauty of our state is there waiting for us.

The State of Minnesota, along with some private groups, took a major step toward preserving some of these resources last week when it bought conservation rights on 50,000 acres of undeveloped forests.

That is a lot of trees.

The important part of the agreement is that these conservation easements will keep the land from being chopped up and developed.

The deal covers former Boise Cascade land, located in Itasca and Koochiching counties, and the DNR and the Trust for Public Land will buy the easements in and around the George Washington and Koochiching state forests.

The land will remain open to loggers, but the timber harvest must be conducted in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Why is it important to protect large blocks of timberland?

Forests are an important part of the identity of our state. Forests have played a key role in the development of the state, and the aesthetic value of forests are part of what Minnesota is today.

But the aesthetic value is only part of the story.

Forests help to provide clean water. They slow rainwater so it can be absorbed into the ground and replenish aquifers. They help to filter pollutants and sediment from our waters.

Forests provide clean air through carbon sequestation, filtering pollutants, and providing oxygen.

Forests provide habitat for plants and animals, and they reduce erosion.

They are a source of economic growth by supporting sustainable forestry, hunting revenues, and recreation-based tourism.

We cannot afford to take this for granted.

Nearly half of Minnesota’s forests are privately owned, and those lands are being sold and developed at an alarming rate.

Once these large tracts have been broken up, we can never get them back.

It seems that we all want our own little piece of paradise these days.

Anyone who has spent any time on a northbound highway on a Friday afternoon during the summer can attest to this.

But, as the population increases, and we split up the wilderness areas of the state into smaller and smaller pieces, and pave over forests, turn lakes into subdivisions, and bring city conveniences to the woods, we are destroying the very beauty that attracted us in the first place.

The deal, which was the largest of its kind in Minnesota, is an important victory, but there is more to be done.

The arrangement underscores the importance of state and private entities working together for the common good.

As land prices continue to climb, and as pressure for development continues to grow, these relationships will become even more critical.

The stakes are high, but by working together in a thoughtful and responsible way, we can preserve the beauty of Minnesota for all of us to enjoy, rather than allowing the lust for quick profits, and the greed of a few, to destroy our natural resources forever.

It is nice to be able to dream of getting out in the woods, but if we don’t take steps now to protect what is left, the dream will be all we have.