After about 90 minutes of public testimony Tuesday evening, the Beltrami County Board members voted unanimously to make two changes in the timber harvest policy for Three Island Park, Movil Maze and other county recreation areas.
All stands in the parks already auctioned off for cutting will be harvested. But in the future, timber harvest and reforestation plans will be presented simultaneously at a Park and Trail Advisory Council meeting prior to the sale. And county staff will set a target of investing 15 percent of projected timber sale revenues in reforestation efforts to promote tree species diversity in the park and recreation efforts.
The 5-0 decision was to follow these modifications of forest management policy, which were jointly recommended by the Beltrami County Parks and Trails Advisory Council and the Beltrami County Natural Resource Management Department.
"We don't see forest management and recreation as mutually exclusive," said Greg Snyder, director of resource management.
Several individuals testified against timber harvest in the parks in trail areas. Bob Montebello, trail administrator for the Bemidji Area Cross Country Ski Club, said the County Board is in violation of the Dec. 29, 1967 conveyance of tax forfeited lands designated the Three Island Park be used exclusively for county park and outdoor recreation.
"It seems past county boards have been in violation of the deeds that conveyed those lands to the county," Montebello said. "The quarrel, I guess, is with how these lands have been used. Clear cuts do destroy the beauty and tranquility of a forest that is designated as a park."
Snyder said much of the forest in the parks is mature to over-mature and will die or blow down if not harvested. He cited the difficult balance his department must strive for in balancing all interests in regard to managing the parks.
"It's being managed for aesthetics and forest production," he said. "It's not being managed for production of fiber over recreation."
"You can't keep a forest the way it is," said Mark Benson, a Blackduck logger. "You have to use it or lose it. As old as those forests are, they could blow down like they did in the northeast."
Other speakers, such as Shirley Maertens and Judy Dvorak, asked the commissioners to consider all the wildlife affected by the timber harvest and to save the trees for future generations.
"This park belongs to all the citizens of Beltrami County," Dvorak said. "You folks are our representatives and should be our advocates for maintaining the intent of the original deed."
Commissioner Jack Frost challenged the contention that the deeds have been violated. He pointed out that County Attorney Tim Faver would have warned commissioners against such action.
He also added that if the trees die without being harvested for forest products, an industry of great importance to the area, no one is the better for such an outcome, and the trees wouldn't be there for future generations.
Kirk Benson, a Blackduck timber broker, cited the professionalism of the loggers, who have to harvest according to county policy.
Kevin Binkley, who bought one of the sites in Three Island Park, said loggers leave standing the trees designated for preservation. He noted that for wildlife, cut over areas produce more food sources and foster young tree growth.
Commissioner Joe Vene also pointed out that the proceeds from the county's timber sales support the county's recreational areas.