Building Fences and Partnerships

By Julie Miedtke, University of Minnesota Extension-Itasca County

Early in May, Grand Rapids High School Students and Woodland Advisors took to the woods to install a deer exclosure at the Forest History Center.  Working side by side students and volunteers cleared vegetation, dug holes using post hole diggers, and by mid-afternoon the fence was raised.

Roxy Knuttila with finishing touches on the fence with students.
Roxy Knuttila with finishing touches on the fence with students.

Keith Matson, a man who wears many hats: US Forest Service-retired, Woodland Advisor, and Itasca County Private Woodland Committee, organized the activity and remarked “these students certainly had ample horse power for the job and we enjoyed getting to know them and hear their interests in forests, wildlife and being outdoors.  We certainly hope to continue this partnership with these future landowners.  This activity has been a good experience for everyone”.   Other woodland advisors helped with the project including Jim Columbus, Floyd Hovarter, Roxy Knuttala and Ralph Olson.

The Forest History Center has several ancient Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) scattered throughout the site.  Many of these conifers are “super canopy trees” standing taller than any other trees in the area and you can find many of the reigning monarchs growing on the banks of the Mississippi River.  The Woodland Stewardship Plan written by Dan Hertle-DNR –Forestry, indicated that the site was favorable for growing white pine and suggested the project.

The fence was installed in a very visible location along a primary trail leading down to the Mississippi River.  The purpose of the fence was to prevent deer from browsing young white pine seedlings that have naturally seeded into the area.  And the project will also demonstrate to folks how a growing deer population is impacting forest vegetation.  Given the high deer population in the area, it is expected that there will be a noticeable difference in the shrubs and tress within a few years.  Materials used for the fence were purchased locally.

Growing white pine

Landowners that are looking to increase the conifer component on their land can hand plant white pine seedlings—an obvious choice if your land doesn’t have any. Landowners that have white pine may enjoy working with Mother Nature.  White pine will generally produce a good seed crop every three to five years with the seed capable of traveling 200-700 feet or more.  Scarifying the soil prior to seed dispersal will create a seedbed for natural regeneration.   Once established, white pine will continue to need care to ensure their growth and survival.  Competing vegetation (grasses and shrubs) and management of the overstory keeping some shade on the site are two important considerations for young trees.  While growing, white pine will need to be pruned to help reduce damage from white pine blister rust and help to improve the quality of the timber.  Growing white pine is the preferred tree of choice for active folks that enjoy being out in the woods.

Julie Miedtke is an Extension forester in Itasca County. She's based in Grand Rapids.

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