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With help, a legacy of land is created along the Nemadji


Most people want to leave a legacy, to know that their lives mattered, to leave their mark on the world, a contribution of some sort to future generations. But many don’t consciously think about what they want their legacy to be or how to build it. They also don’t realize that they aren’t alone, that they can involve others in creating their legacy.

Warren Tester has done that.

Tester is being honored as Carlton County’s 2019 Outstanding Conservationist for his work on what he calls his “strategic” property in the Nemadji watershed. Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District forestry specialist Kelly Smith said Tester was also recently selected by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts as a finalist representing northeast Minnesota for the statewide Outstanding Conservationist award, announced Dec. 10.

Tester, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Andover, purchased 160 acres of forest land in Clear Creek Township in 1978. The north fork of the Nemadji River, a designated trout stream, flows through the property. Tester’s goals were and are to improve and harvest the forest and to use the land for hunting with his sons, Matt and Brett, who both live in the Duluth area. He also knew he wanted to conserve and improve the land and stream and involve his sons in the work.

Tester contacted Brian Allen of Allen Forestry to write a Forest Stewardship Plan for him in 2008. Tester approached the Carlton SWCD in 2015 for assistance in reaching the plan goals: increasing oak, spruce and young forest components for improved habitat without leading to increased landslides and stream bank erosion in the river valley.

Smith said logging on the Nemadji watershed’s red clay valley slopes made for slow, unprofitable, and dangerous work because of the steep grade. Opening the banks to erosion is also a concern, he said.

But if no logging is done on mature aspen and fir stands, the timber will fall down and the areas will convert to brush, resulting in faster runoff and more erosion. To help valley forests convert to a mixed forest of long-living, multi-species trees, forest stand improvement practices are implemented.

After reviewing Tester’s 2008 stewardship plan and evaluating the site, Smith wrote forestry practice plans for two different areas.

The first was to create 11 acres of early successional habitat on the flats south of the river. “This area was mostly pole-sized aspen and fir on heavy clay soil,” Smith said. The plan was to harvest trees in the winter, leaving patches in sensitive areas of draws and wetlands. The area would then be left to grow for at least 10 years to provide nesting, brood-rearing, and foraging habitat for a variety of birds and other animals, including golden-winged warbler, black-billed cuckoo, eastern whippoorwill, white-throated sparrow, ruffed grouse, woodcock, deer and bear.

Because smaller logging projects don’t have enough timber volume to attract loggers, it can be difficult to get forestry practices implemented, Smith said. The SWCD worked with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide funding assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Eric Schramm, a Sappi forester, arranged for logging the acreage in the winter of 2017-2018.

The second plan Smith wrote was for forest stand improvement to release up to 100 crop trees per acre in the 39 acres of river valley by cutting the surrounding trees. Existing bur oak, paper birch, red maple, white pine, and white spruce would thrive better without competing aspen and fir. Smith said this would encourage a diverse, longer lasting forest of multiple species.

Funding assistance was once again provided by NRCS.

For another project, Tester hired Allen Forestry to manage a timber sale on the flats north of the river last winter. Smith said Carlton County had recently put in a logging trail for harvesting adjacent county land in what is usually a difficult area to access.

“It has been fun and rewarding to improve the habitat on this property,” Tester said.

Tester has planted apple trees and white pine and seeding clover. He walks the land monthly and works to keep the brush down. He is currently working with Smith to plant 100 trees and shrubs for wildlife food and cover.

Tester has involved his two sons from when they were young. He has been teaching them through woodland projects and with the knowledge he has acquired from forestry experts. He says his sons “love the land more than I do.”

All three enjoy spending time there, walking the land and hunting. And at the end of the day, they all sleep very well in a cabin they built in the middle of the woods next to the creek.

Tester said he is confident that when he reaches the point of handing the land over, his sons are ready and willing to continue his legacy and make it their own.

Kim Samuelson, the elected supervisor for Carlton SWCD’s District 4, encourages you to contact the SWCD for information and assistance to help you improve your land. You can reach the SWCD at 218-384-3891 or through their Facebook page or through their website at http://www.carltonswcd.org.