Pining (and planting) for a healthy forest

Courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension Service

The regeneration of Ham Lake will get a little help.

Recently I wrote about the Ham Lake fire of last May in the context of what the Minnesota fire season may bring. It was the worst blaze in at least 100 years in the Gunflint Trail area; more than 75,000 acres (120 square miles) in the United States and Canada were burned.

Citizens along the Gunflint, helped by funds from a number of sources, are organizing to plant a white- or red-pine seedling for every acre burned. The event will take place on May 3. That’s the date of the first anniversary of the fire, which apparently was ignited by a runaway campfire.

“This started last year during the fire, before the trail reopened,” said Nancy Seaton of Hungry Jack Outfitters. “We said, ‘We have to do something to make people feel good on the day they open up the trail, because it is going to be easy to feel bad.’ ”

When the authorities let homeowners and resorters back in, Seaton and her friends gave them pine seedlings — 6,000 trees, all on private land. The success of that gesture led to this year’s program, which cut through U.S. Forest Service red tape in record time.

It’s an ambitious plan. Organizers hope for 500 volunteers; each person will get as many as 150 seedlings. They hope to get them all in the ground in one day, come snow, rain or shine. All the planting sites are on public land within the Superior National Forest; all are outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where such replanting is not allowed.

“People will be able to say, ‘I put the trees around campsite number two’ and we want people to come back and see them in 10, 20 or 50 years,” said Seaton, who is chairing the event.

Events are also happening the rest of the weekend in what is being called the Gunflint Green-Up. The cost is $30 for each planter, which will get you three meals, a T-shirt and access to other activities, including live music at a thank-you dance. Volunteers and others interested in donating can go the website for more details. April 22 is the deadline to volunteer.

The seedlings come from the Iron Range Resources nursery, Hedstrom Lumber and the Quetico-Superior Council.

Residents of the Gunflint, who also saw the Cavity Lake fire of 2006, continue to keep close watch on the fire danger, and the news is looking better. Since my last post on wildfire, drought data has been updated for Minnesota. The eastern section of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which holds the Gunflint, is outside the current drought area and precipitation has been above normal this winter.

Outdoor writer Ron Hustvedt has a podcast on the planting project with Seaton here.

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