Two Harbors Area Hardwood Restoration Project

The Silviculture Program of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, and Hardwood Forestry Fund found a natural opportunity for seedlings in a stretch of land near Lake Superior in a very difficult 2021 of pandemic issues, forest fires and drought, according to Silviculture Program Forester Anna Heruth.  Heruth indicated that in 2021 state funding for this type of work was limited and the state budget was spent heavily on healthcare-related concerns because of the pandemic.  This created a need for the state to seek out funding for a predominantly hardwood maple site that needed attention and the Hardwood Forestry Fund was able to assist. This 192-acre sugar maple site has had no active management since the mid-1950’s until it was strip-thinned in 2017. The current plan is to try an alternative approach for regenerating the site using intensive management.  This involved cut-strips to increase the diversity and quality of hardwoods.  The Two Harbors Area Hardwood Restoration Project, with a total project cost of $76,900 over the next 4 years for 76,000 tree seedlings, was selected for funding by the Hardwood Forestry Fund.  The fund was able to allocate $28,025.00 used for seedling purchases of Northern Red Oak, White Pine and White Spruce plus the planting labor. 

The site of 192 acres was thinned and half was removed.  The goal is to have a mixed hardwood stand.  Sugar Maple is now about 40% of the stand and Northern Red Oak is 40%.  The Minnesota DNR decided they wanted to retain the canopy and to provide habitat for wildlife.  The site is actually located in northeastern Minnesota, 4 miles inland from Lake Superior. It is within the North Shore Highlands, an Ecological Section of the Laurentian Mixed Forest, that intersects the Canadian Shield and the boreal forest. This mesic hardwood landscape is distinctive, with steep terrain that includes maple hardwoods, interspersed with boreal species. It extends along the north shore of Lake Superior is just 20 miles from Lake Superior. “This year we lived through extreme forest fires, just 20 miles away from the selected site.  There were many lightning strikes and it was an unprecedented year with drought as well. However, amazingly the site has done very well,” she said. 

The plantings took place after prep in 2020 in mid-May of this year.  The site is in a state of regeneration now and it will be periodically checked this spring, then in three years, five years, 10 years, and 15 years, Heruth said.  By planting more red oak, the expectation is to see the Maple decline to about 30%, and increase the northern Red Oak to 55 -60% to try to achieve more diversity and not let the sugar maple dominate the stand. Pine and Spruce will remain at about 5% to add diversity and help shelter the hardwood seedlings.

“The biggest win for us was that we were able to increase diversity in this area after we had experienced a Maple decline.  We did intensive site prep for the Northern Red Oak so it will survive. And, it appears that we will have 100% survival with this.” The Hardwood Forestry funds specifically allowed 36,000 Northern Red Oaks to be planted. “This helps increase the quality of timber, and makes the landscape resilient in a time of climate change,” she added. The boreal component comes from the white spruce and white pine plantings.