What’s an expansive way to provide quality wildlife habitat in Minnesota’s forests? Encourage landowners and businesses to use sustainable, responsible management and procurement practices on, or “certify”, nearly 8.4 million acres of public and private forests. Then identify the most outstanding and critical of those acres for management of their high conservation values. Voila! Quality forest management equals healthy, diverse wildlife habitats.
Three major, internationally recognized, forest certification systems exist – the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), and American Tree Farm System (ATFS). These systems, through independent third parties, certify that forest landowners and businesses embrace “green” practices that maintain ecological, economic, and social components of forests. Through a chain-of-custody process, forest products are marketed and labeled as certified only if they originated, were grown, harvested and manufactured in accordance with certification standards.
High Conservation Values
The FSC system also requires that certificate holders define and identify areas of outstanding biological, watershed, social and/or cultural significance, or “high conservation value forests” (HCVF). Biological, high conservation values (HCV) include rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems, and globally, regionally or nationally significant concentrations of either biodiversity or large, landscape level forests where viable populations of most, if not all, naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of distribution and abundance. Forests with these values can be managed as working forests provided the characteristics that make them so valuable are maintained or enhanced.
Minnesota DNR has 4.97 million acres, 90% of the land it manages, dual-certified through FSC and SFI. It administers the largest single forest management certificate in our nation. Commitment to HCVF dovetails with DNR’s responsibility to manage for a broad set of forest resources.
DNR’s HCVF process began in 2006. To date, biological components have primarily been evaluated and emphasized. Watershed, social, and cultural values evaluation are in progress. By the FSC standard, DNR’s old-growth forests are generally considered HCVF. These unique forests once covered 51% of Minnesota’s forest but have nearly vanished. They develop over a very long period, generally at least 120 years, without logging, severe fire or windstorm.
In 2015, on 82 sites, DNR formally designated 174,000 acres as HCVF and identified 89,000 acres on school trust lands for management consistent with the HCVF principle. Assessment of potential HCVF is incomplete for northcentral Minnesota because the Minnesota Biological Survey which DNR uses to identify areas of outstanding biological significance is not finished there.
It should be noted that several Minnesota counties and private entities are also certified to FSC or SFI standards, providing additional HCVFs. Aitkin County, for example, has been a distinct leader, being the first county in the United States to be certified. It has over 222,000 acres under FSC and three HCVFs. `
Our Forest Gems
These amazing, best of the best forests, their habitats and creatures stretch from the northwest to the southeast corners of our beautiful state. Here are a few shining examples:
Caribou Parkland is a nearly 11,300 acre gem in Kittson County along the Canadian border. It distinguishes itself as one of the best remaining examples of aspen parkland landscape. Here on Caribou WMA you can find an impressive, functioning ecosystem. Its vast mosaic of glacial lake beach ridges and wetland swales has tallgrass prairie, savanna, shrubs, quaking aspen and bur oaks. Visitors may see elk, wolves, sharp-tailed grouse, sandhill cranes, eastern towhee, marbled godwits, upland sandpipers, gophersnakes, and rare butterflies like the Assiniboia or Garita skippers.
In Cook County, bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, on the Pat Bayle State Forest, you can stand in awe at Temperance Pines, under one of the largest natural red and white pineries in the Laurentian Uplands. It covers 2,300 acres, including old growth forest with giant, ancient standing and fallen pines, and a carpet of wild flowers. Neighborhood wildlife consist of lynx, extremely rare heather voles, rock voles, black bear, black-throated blue warblers, goshawks, spruce grouse, common loons and bald eagles.
The Whitewater Sand Savannas on Whitewater WMA in Winona County has over 5,800 acres of bluffs, valleys and floodplain near the Whitewater River. Oak forest, oak and jack pine savannas, barren and bluff prairies, as well as mesic prairies, live here. In these habitats, red-shouldered hawks, peregrine falcons, cerulean warblers, blue-winged warbler, pickerel frogs, Blandings turtles and timber rattlesnakes exist. The Blufflands landscape provides a critical migratory bird corridor, and one of our most important landscapes for reptiles and mollusks. Sadly, it was home to the last, but now extirpated, population of Karner blue butterflies in Minnesota.
What Can You Do?
Minnesotans are fortunate to be entrusted with these special lands and their forests. Maintaining and enhancing their unique characteristics and numerous benefits are an important stewardship responsibility. We can recreate on, enjoy and support management of these incredible places, and provide input on future candidate HCVF sites.
Forest with HCVs may occur on state land adjacent to or on your land. For maps and additional detail, see the DNR HCVF webpage. If interested in working with DNR to maintain or enhance it, please consider contacting Tim Beyer, Forest Certification Program Consultant. In most cases, it can be managed as working forest using conservation practices such as development and implementation of a forest stewardship plan, maintenance of large un-fragmented and un-parceled tracts, maintaining structure and diversity of forest types, ages, and species, vigilance for and control of invasive species, protecting wetland and riparian areas, retaining dead and live standing trees and woody debris during harvest, considering wildlife of special concern, and consulting local natural resource experts. For forest stewardship planning and to locate your local DNR Cooperative Forest Management forester, see the DNR Forest Stewardship Program web page.