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Beltrami County Board adopts new parks forest management plan

Logging in Beltrami County parks brings in revenue, but it has long been opposed by recreational users of sites such as Three Island Park and Movil Maze.

On Tuesday, May 3, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners approved on a 3-2 vote a new parks forest management plan developed by the county's Parks and Trails Advisory Council.

According to County Administrator Tony Murphy, Beltrami County Natural Resource Management oversees about 147,000 acres of forested public land. Park and recreation areas make up about 2 percent of that acreage.

The PTAC report acknowledges that timber harvesting in recreation areas has been contentious, although cutting stands of over-mature trees and replanting more diverse populations is necessary. Without forest management, disturbances such as blow downs can occur.

"With harvesting, forest management can be a planned event, and revenue will be generated to continue improving the recreational opportunities of these areas," the report states.

The new plan calls for 50-foot uncut buffers along roads and trails in parks and recreational areas. These corridors will be made up mostly of understory vegetation, wind-firm, long-lived trees and young trees. Where trees along the buffer strips are predominantly mature, they will be thinned, not clear cut.

The forest management priorities in parks changes from a focus on economic revenue to an emphasis on habitat management and recreation. The goal is to retain longer-lived species and leave more of the short-lived species selectively standing.

"We're going to manage it for park purposes instead of the economic value of the timber," said Commissioner Jim Lucachick.

"I've always been an advocate of treating a park as a park," said Commissioner Jack Frost.

However, Frost and Lucachick didn't agree with one another on a clause in the plan that would limit timber harvesting to 10 named certified master loggers.

"I would like to see everybody to be able to bid on it," said Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks. "That sticks on me a bit, the master logger designation."

"We wanted to find a subset of loggers we thought had a higher probability of following the prescription set by the county," said Charlie Parsons, a member of the PTAC subcommittee who developed the parks forest management plan. "If we open it up to all loggers in Beltrami County, we have a group of 50, some of whom don't follow the prescription."

Other members of the subcommittee are Richard Moore, Beltrami County director of Natural Resource Management; Jim Gubbels of the Department of Natural Resources; and PTAC member Jeff Shadwell.

Timber harvesters who attain the Minnesota Master Logger Certification pay an application fee. They undergo an interview on performance, business practices and standards and also on compliance with natural resource laws. They submit professional references and undergo field audits. When they are certified, they must pay an annual renewal fee.

"Master logger (certification) doesn't guarantee we're going to get good performance," Lucachick said.

Fairbanks said he knows non-certified, but experienced and ethical loggers who don't have the time or money to go through the certification process.

Commissioner Joe Vene suggested performance bonds be attached to the contracts to ensure that loggers working in the parks follow the harvesting limits set by the county.

If the County Board voted to impose performance bonds, Moore recommended they be 10 percent of the bid.

Vene, Fairbanks and Lucachick voted to adopt the plan with the master logger requirement removed. Frost and Commissioner Jim Heltzer voted to adopt the plan as submitted, including the master logger clause.

"I'm of a mind we can get to the same destination with a performance bond," Vene said.