Proposal to log old-growth pines near Burntside Lake raises objections

White pines in northern Minnesota. (Photo by Greg Seitz)

A plan by the state of Minnesota to cut one-third of the mature pines on a 62-acre parcel near the Boundary Waters is causing controversy.

The land on the North Arm of Burntside Lake, off the Echo Trail northwest of Ely, is popular with hikers and skiers, who use a network of trail built and maintained by nearby YMCA Camp du Nord.

Niki Geisler, director of Camp du Nord, said that the woods have long been beloved by visitors and residents.

“You really are in the wilderness,” she told the Star Tribune. “There are very few places we can bring our kids that feel like that.”

The Ely Chamber of Commerce calls the trails the “most beautiful in the area as they roll up and down over forested ledge rock and across lakes through the wilderness.”

But the understory is overgrown, and in the absence of fire since 1874, the state says the stand must be thinned to make way for young trees which will someday replace the old ones.

“We have taken great care in planning this thinning in a way that reduces the short-term impact to trail users, while doing the work needed to improve forest health for the long term,” said Dana Frame, Tower area forest supervisor. “Some of the existing recreational trails were created by past logging efforts, and we’ll need to temporarily access about a third of those historic routes for this harvest.”

In its recent report, the Star Tribune links the proposal to efforts to expand logging on Minnesota’s state lands from 800,000 cords to 900,000 cords annually. The Department of Natural Resources says the plan was prepared before that expansion. It will produce about 500 cords of lumber to the logger who is awarded the contract.

The state’s description of the forest says that even 19th-century surveyors found the parcels lacking in valuable virgin forests, instead dominated by jackpine and aspen, but it could be “productive” with “very intensive forestry practices.”

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