The 753 Mile Journey into Fire

“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”

A dear friend gifted me a frame with this quote on it as I was leaving Michigan and beginning my 753 mile journey  back to Minnesota. While I did not look back, I will never forget the memories and accomplishments I had while being in Michigan and the friends I made along the way.  From the exciting adventures with my landowners (you know who you are!), all the crazy phone calls and the many laughs among colleagues and friends Michigan will be in my heart.

While letting landowners, colleagues, and friends know that I would be leaving they question did arise if I would continue to blog.  Well my friends, the definite answer now is YES! This post is just a basic update and then we will get back to the “good stuff”… TREES!

It has been over two months now at my new position and so far so good- a bit crazy at first.  I arrived and by the end of my first week I was out on a fire! A WILDLAND FIRE!!! Fire season should have been over by the time I started mid-May but things were so dry with the lack of rain it extended on and on and on!  That first weekend I was here, I was given fire gear, a radio, and reminded that I was on call to have phone near me.  Saturday afternoon, I see my co-workers name come up on my phone and my heart starts racing, it was time to face my first wildland fire.  Racing down the highway, looked at my co-worker in the truck next to me and said “Fun Fact: Fire is one of my biggest fears, but let’s do this”! Shaking in my boots as we pull up, I see the smoke, the fire creeping along the field, firefighters on the ground and a helicopter in the air I thought to myself what did I get myself into? I used to just hug trees and now I am going to fight fire, WHAT?!  We went to asses the situation, where it started, how it started and rate of spread. Once we had that information, I was handed a bladder bag (backpack with a spray nozzle full of water) and proceeded to march through a cattail slough.  Hip deep in muddy water surrounded by cattails and other tall grasses I struggled to get myself to higher ground!

When I got back to my place that evening, my body and clothes were black from the ash, my legs tired from the weight of the pack and hiking, and was blowing black snot (yes gross but so true) and I thought to myself, why?  Why am I fighting fire?  After much thought, I compiled my best answer for this, Mother nature- trees.  I do it to protect our natural resources.  Fire is a good tool for management- but that is when it controlled and not threatening anything (people, structures, critical habitats).  Fire can help fight invasive species, promotes regeneration of native plants and shrubs.

Anyways, all ended well- I managed to make it through first fire and was sent to the fire academy the following week and am officially certified to fight fire.

More updates to come…and good information of course!!

“Always look forward- Condensed advice from trees –> Be Strong, Be Solid

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Side view of fire- from outside the hardwood forested area into field
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MAEAP…MAEAP

 

Every-time I use the acronym MAEAP…I think of the roadrunner cartoon “MAEAP MAEAP”!

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has had a Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program- MAEAP program in place for many years to honor farmers who are environmentally friendly; recently in the past year they have added a forestry component.  Forest, Wetland & Habitat- geared towards farmers and private landowners who have one, two, or all three of these components on their property.  Many farmers have woodlots and can add it to their list of verified components.  Farmers and landowners go through risk assessments at their own pace and when they meet all the high risk (erosion, chemicals, ect.) they can become verified.  It is a voluntary program, and is confidential. I was given permission by my landowner to talk about it.  Being a forester under the MDARD umbrella, we took on the forestry part, while the MAEAP technicians focused on the agriculture parts.

When first learning of this new program, I immediately knew who fit the bill for it.  To be apart of it, you really have to be “one” with your land and active on it, and willing to keep up with it.

Norm, young at heart, has been following the words and wisdom of Aldo Leopold.  When he was younger he read Aldo Leopold’s, Sand County Almanac and was inspired and it has never left him. He spent two weeks in Baraboo, Wisconsin at the family shack, learning the ways and Aldo’s legacy. When I first met Norm, back shortly after I started here, he was just looking for direction to update his management plan.  I figured it would be another typical walk through the woods, chatting about deer management, and a quick referral.  To my surprise, I was wrong! We sat down that first day and he showed me the plans he had written for the last 20 years, his records of his control for invasive species (Autumn olive) and other activities he had done.  He has records for putting his property into a conservation easement and the real kicker is his mission statement.  While reading his mission statement, again inspired by Leopold, I was brought to tears. It is not often I meet someone with the same values as I. I was humbled and overwhelmed by what he had written YEARS ago. A holistic approach for sustainability of all parts of the land. I collected myself and we took a tour of the property….

As we toured the property, Norm pointed out the some 60,000 trees he planted- most by hand and some by machinery. He took an old abandoned farm and turned it into a nature paradise. He put up signs with species and dates, not only for him to remember the date but for his grand kids when they inherit the property. He has his hardwoods stands marked by color for easier tree ID for them as well.  Norm is an organic farmer with fruit trees and bees and provides ample habitat with 10 wood duck houses, buffer zones along his wetlands and has even restored his section of the Cedar River back to a blue ribbon stream for great trout fishing! That first tour, I left feeling a sense of calm and happiness.

Now, trying to get a hold of Norm is not always the easiest- because he spends 7 days a week out at the property managing it, so either I have to drop by or wait for a call- but the wait is always worth it! Because, I was so inspired by Norm, I knew I had to take everyone and anyone out there whenever I could. He was always ready to share his story with anyone who would listen.  I took a group out there to verify his property with MAEAP, and just recently took a group of landowners out there for a field tour on managing your woodlot. EVERY SINGLE PERSON, left there thanking him and thanking me for allowing them to experience such beauty.

He has even been Conservationist of the Year and Tree Farmer of the year! Norms.jpg

Check out that Norway!

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”        – Warren Buffett

Do you ever sit under a tree and think about how it got there?  Was it a volunteer, meaning did it naturally regenerate and grow there? Or did someone years ago, maybe decades ago plant it?  Did someone take the time to dig a hole and plant a seedling tree- hoping that one day it will grow up big and strong in hopes that someone sits under it and wonders or that wildlife is enriched by all the trees benefits.  Seriously…how did it get there, what has the tree seen, what kind of tree is it even!? If only trees could talk; the stories they would tell! Would you take the time to listen?

A few days ago I had a couple stop by the office carrying a large garbage bag and inside was a tree branch! They began to tell me about the tree and how they had 35 acres of these trees! I looked at it, felt the needles and said well “its a spruce, but I do not want to give exact species without seeing them”.  They had told me that the previous owner planted some 13,000 of these for a Christmas Tree Farm, but passed and the wife did not keep up with it so they just grew.  I did not want to confirm the exact species because partly I wanted to see these trees in real life and because I was not 100% certain on it, I told them I did not want to say white spruce and be wrong, in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t.  It was very bright green..but all I could think was black or white spruce for holiday trees but I just had a feeling it wasn’t because the branching and the pure green color.  In the back of my mind I am thinking can this really be a Norway Spruce and is just a young or upper branch?  But, Norway is not a common holiday tree here…  This was a brain teaser at best! I could not get it off my mind, so I talked it out with a friend…walking through all the trees it could be.

Anywho, so as I drove through the muddy back-roads to their property, it hit me like a cold snowball in the face and I yelled (all alone in my truck) I KNEW IT!! As I pulled into their driveway I had the biggest smile on my face because right in front of me, plain as day, rows and rows and rows of NORWAY SPRUCE!!!  I met up with the landowners and said, I am so happy I did not let you leave my office without setting up a visit-because these are Norway Spruce.  In shock we began to walk towards the trees and I explained how Norway’s branches droop down.  I have never seen a plantation of these species before, I was in awe.  It was a beautiful day, reaching 64 degrees Fahrenheit but when we walked into the trees it dropped roughly 10 degrees!  This beautiful, green carpet of trees stand tall all because some 26 years ago a gentleman decided to plant 13,000 trees!

Next time you pass a tree on a walk/run/bike or sit under one to cool down and take in its shady canopy take a moment to think- how did it get there? What has it seen? What species of tree is it?  If you do not know what species of tree it is, take a picture or note things about it and go that extra step to look it up!

Thank that tree for Clean Air

 

 

Let Mother Nature Take Her Course

“The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been waiting quite some time to be able to start with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I have finally been inspired by a landowner where it fit- on top of his bucket list was being able to escape the trifles of life and live surrounded by nature and being within the trees.  Recently retired he was able to finally escape the hustle and bustles of work and live out his life long dream of trees and wildlife! There is pure comfort in being able to know what you do to positively impacts the land.  This landowner was searching for all the right education to better sustain his property for the future all all wildlife that lives among it; even the families of squirrels!  Not many landowners I meet care for the squirrels!! Go Squirrels!

This landowner had just purchased the property and called me up a couple weeks prior to our visit very concerned about what previous landowners had done with logging it.  He is not against logging, but was very concerned with how it looked “butchered”.  I pulled up curious of why he was concerned…I saw no immediate concerns.  We began to talk about the property, a bit of history, and I simple said “I think it looks great”.  He took a stutter step backwards and had a huge smile on his face! He told me I made his day, I said great my work is done and jokingly acted like I was going to leave! He began to explain how this is his life’s dream, his top of the bucket list adventure, his true passion.  He was so incredibly worried about the forest and purely wanted to know everything he could do to make it better, was geared up to learn and do everything in his power to make it sustainable. We chatted about the basics- he has oaks so I filled him in on oak wilt and Asian- longhorn beetle for his maples.

We began our trek through the forest, well the sprouting of a new forest! I began to explain to him about how great it looked, you could see the baby red and white oaks covering the ground and the maples sprouting like crazy! He asked what he needed to do with everything and my answer for everything was “just let nature takes its course”.  Forests have been doing their thing for many years before us so they know what best to do naturally.  Now, if he did not have the ample regeneration he had, we would have been compiling a planting plan! Instead, we discussed adding fruit trees, hazelnut trees and some pines around the property lines for edge to enhance for wildlife and biodiversity. Forest land is so fragmented, split into parcels and one way to help wildlife feel safe in an area is to have forest edge and enclosure.

Just let Mother Nature do her thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Splish Splash & Bug hunting!

To Sit in Solitude, To Think in Solitude with only the Music of the Stream and the Cedar to Break the Flow of Silence, There Lies the Value of Wilderness. – John Muir

This past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer with a local conservancy that received a grant to help monitor the Cedar River.  The grant is provided by MICorps (The Michigan Clean Water Corps) to monitor streams around Michigan to assess the streams quality.

Anyways, it was only 50 degrees out with cloud cover, some drizzling rain, and rather windy– but we put on our boots and headed out to our site.  I am always up for anything outdoors, but it even surprised me when I signed up to lead a team on searching for macro-invertebrates, you know…bugs! I do not really have a problem with bugs, but I have no clue what is living in the water, peel back some bark I know what I will find but to search the stream was new to me.  I had done some work with macro-invertebrates back in college but not as extensive as this.

Anyways, so we are setting up, wind blowing our hair and I begin the timer! T (the collector of my group) headed into the stream net in hand and began to search under logs, under vegetation, moving the sandy substrate below to toss up anything living!  As she would get things I would collect it and take it back to “H” who was sorting through and trying to locate little fellas! Because we were short handed and only had 30 minutes to search the stream, I helped out both T and H with their duties.  I began sifting through vegetation and sand looking for anything that moved.  Then I hit the mother load! An old branch that had fallen in the stream and made home there in the stream; had loads of little critters crawling! We picked and picked and picked and finally we felt confident that we had close to 100 macro invertebrates and began to identify what exactly we had and classified it to get a measurement of quality for the stream.  In our section we found that it was ranked excellent.  By what we found in the stream rated it healthy.  We even found a little tadpole, but we let it go!

The stream was very clear and had great buffer zones of trees and other shrubs to keep it cool and clean.  Trees and shrubs allow for stability of the banks that prevent erosion of sediment, pesticides, nitrogen and other pollutants into the stream.  If its a cold water stream that houses trout, it is crucial to keep the temperature down but shade trees in order to keep providing that habitat for trout.  It is important for us to monitor these streams, not only for water quality for ourselves but also for the wildlife using the stream.  As we continue to add more “plots” and monitor more sections of the stream we can asses the watershed as a whole and if any management needs to be addressed.

So as the stream flowed and the cedar trees broke the silence– we three enjoyed the wilderness of the stream, forest and wildlife that surrounded us.  We left the stream and stream bank un harmed- it was like we were not even there with the exception of T’s large boot hole where she sunk into the muck!

View of our section of the steam- we did 300ft of stream.
View of our section of the steam- we did 300ft of stream.
Night Night little macros!
Night Night little macros!
There is a bug in my hand- just hard to see with the other little vegetation piece.
There is a bug in my hand- just hard to see with the other little vegetation piece.
The Mother Load branch!!
The Mother Load branch!!
Solid proof- that I do work!
Solid proof- that I do work!

Nature… The Storyteller for Generations

If you look past the products I can make for you and dig deep into my roots…you will see my story. –The Forest

Forests are not only a means to an end.  We sometimes forget that a forest is more than a group of trees that can make us money, or a habitat that will bring us the largest buck at hunting season, or a place to gather firewood, which are great too. However, Forests have stories too, if we think about the bigger picture in many cases and look beyond what is currently standing there we can begin to unravel what may have been before those trees we see now.

I had the opportunity to meet a landowner who has already done this.  He already looked past the current state of his woodlot and can now picture the men years and years ago logging off the white pine in Clare County.  His property is unique in its history for Michigan because it is a major landing ground for the logging done back in the 1870’s.  To this day you can still see where the old railroad track was; ties are still being found on the property and you can still see where men physically dug holes along skid trails to make a flat trail so they could haul logs by horse and not tip.  It was humbling and yet crazy to stand there and picture all those years ago men doing all this work.  Its rare to stand somewhere and really be able to picture what was going on hundreds of years ago. To this day, you can also see the old stumps of harvested white pines throughout the property- which leads to this landowner’s theory on more history to his property.

There is a drop off along the one edge/ corner of his property where you can see where stumps are then at the bottom of the hill there are no stumps to be found.  So we can only speculate that the amount of pine down the hill was not great enough for them to harvest and drag back up the hill.  There are still white pines down there- very large ones- that are assumed by the owners to be “virgin” pines! Ones left behind by the loggers back in the 1870’s because they were not worth it.  We walked around and looked at them, they could easily be 150+ years old!

Going back to just looking at the trees however, I was also blown away.  When this landowner approached me he said his property is one I HAVE to see.  He had read my blog and got the idea that I love forests and am a tree hugger.  Not a crazy assumption, he was totally right.  He began to tell me about how he has veneer size aspen and oaks.  Okay, I have see some nice aspen trees in my day- but the one monster of a tree I saw on his, had even me drooling! Normally when aspen starts to hit maturity it gets hypoxlyn canker or other diseases and decay.  Not this one, it stood tall and beautiful, took my breath away. I stood next to it and looked to the sky to see it standing straight and tall into the beautiful blue sky. Truly amazing!

I go on many site visits (beauty of my work) and every single one has something unique and beautiful to share.

Next time you are out in the forest…look past the trees and shrubs and think about the bigger picture.  Think about how it became a forest, where it came from, the history. 

I am more than just a group of trees…I am a story. –The Forest

A maple and Oak- grown together in harmony :)
A maple and Oak- grown together in harmony 🙂
Amazing ground view of the Aspen
Amazing ground view of the Aspen
Theory of the "Virgin" White Pine
Theory of the “Virgin” White Pine

Enchanted Forests to Wolfy Trees

If you don’t like where you are,   Then change it.  You are not a tree.  -Jim Rohn

I chose this quote not really for the message but for the sake of the tree.  It is exactly right, trees once they are germinated or sprout from a root or stump are stuck in the place.  But they make the best of it! This past week I had many site visits, guess its a busy time of the year and two of those visits really had me thinking.  Much like this quote.

The first visit, I have known the landowners basically since I started here almost a year ago.  I heard stories about their property and the struggles they have had in trying to grow trees in certain areas.  The other day I was presented the opportunity to join them on a walk through their “enchanted forest” as they like to call it.  It is their little piece of sanctuary here in Michigan.  They have trails throughout the 10+ acres and they really care about the sustainability and conservation of the land.  While walking through the property, I was looking for anything of concern while they shared their joys of the trees they have planted through the years.  They have purchased many trees from our conservation district and to hear and see the pride they take in each tree and the sadness when one does not make it; was a very humbling experience.  As we were walking they were pointing old, large stumps from WAAAAY back in the day with some being charred from a old fire.  We guessed with Michigan’s history and the size they were most likely old white pine stumps.  Then we came across one they called the ghost.  The began to tell me how family and friends who have their photos taken with it.  I soon learned why, there was a hole in the very old stump where folks could put their faces and make it look like the stump had a face. So naturally to fit into their enchanted forest I too, took a picture with the stump! All in all it was a great visit to walk around a beautiful forest and talk about conservation with two great conservationists!

Another, visit that really stuck with me was very entertaining as well! I went out to answer questions he had about his management plan and I was reading through his plan and started commenting on the word “wolfy” that was being used to describe his white pines.  We laughed and began to walk through his property.  I soon realized what the plan writer meant by his description of wolfy white pines.  He had obvious signs of white pine weevil.  Which is a insect that lays in larvae just below the terminal buds and causes it to die and a new leader takes over- giving white pine the zig-zag shape.  These white pines had a lot going on.  Several branches trying to be the leader, making it look huge and crazy!  We had quite the laugh at several trees as we were discussing future management objectives! As we parted ways he yelled “glad you learned something new and scientific today- wolfy!”

Back to the quote- even though these trees are not perfect, they make the best of what they are given; because they cannot move!

Ghost Tree
Ghost Tree
"Wolfy" White Pine
“Wolfy” White Pine
Wolfy Tree!
Wolfy Tree!

150 Third Graders…1 Forester

Man always kills the thing he loves. And so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” – Aldo Leopold

As the school year ends, I was asked to help out with several elementary schools for the end of the year outdoor events.  Yesterday, I helped with the third graders at a local school- 150 of them!!! For all you teachers out there, I commend you, one day with them I was exhausted! I have worked with smaller groups of children with 4-H, boy scouts and such but not a group this big.  It was great to see the children so excited about trees and conservation, we have to get them excited about the environment at a young age in hopes they continue to grow up with a conservation mindset.

I chose the quote at the beginning of this entry because first off Aldo is amazing and secondly because the quote says it all, the children I was with Friday are young in a time where they can not always be “young in the wild”.  Times have even changed since I was young.  I always spent my days outside in the woods running around and exploring and coming in once it was dark- kids today cannot do that.  Which is basically what Aldo Leopold is saying here, he is glad he is not young “today” because it is not the same wild country where kids can go outside and be safe playing enjoying nature like we used to.  We have also expanded in a way where children are growing up in more urban environments where the backyard is fenced in with little adventure.

Working with the third graders was fun, intimidating, but fun! A lot of little kids starring at you is intimidating!! We talked about conservation, how trees grow, the difference between a deciduous and coniferous trees and then did a fun little recycling project! Every time, I said deciduous tree they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language! Some of them knew about economics but trees was a foreign language! Yes, economics is important- but trees are life too!! One young boy told me that deciduous trees are the ones that are hollow, another said the difference is their bark!  Hopefully, now they know the difference.  For the recycling project we had some fun, I wanted to keep the kids entertained so we used red pine cones to make little critters! Gave them all a chance to be artsy and crazy while learning about pine cones and enjoying nature in a way that will hopefully stick with them!

Conservation- preserve, protect, guard   –Mother nature for future generations

Twig the Cone Mouse- My example creature.
Twig the Cone Mouse- My example creature.
One groups Pine Cone Creatures
One groups Pine Cone Creatures
One Group working hard!
One Group working hard!

Fire… FIRE!!!!

We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there. – Charles F. Kettering

As a forester, I am always thinking future- what can be done now to best manage forests and ecosystems for the future, because “guess what”, we will always be headed towards the future and we want to pave for a “better” future for younger generations.  This morning I was talking with a a colleague and he expressed his gratitude for me being of younger generation and being environmentally conscious.  Even at my age, I am worried about the younger generation because like my elders, I to am only borrowing this land from generations below me and I want to make sure I pave a better path then generations before me because I have the education and science to make it better.  I can not turn my head and say, well the next generation will fix it, I need to ACT NOW.

Anyways, off my soap box and to the point of this post.  Best Forest Management.  Recently, there was a small forest fire in my backyard and the yards around me.  One of my neighbors decided to burn leaves but did not consult Mr. Smokey first! If they had asked Smokey the Bear prior they would have know it was way to dry and the winds would blow the warm coals and catch fire. So a fire broke out, affected 5 property owners, my property included.  No building damages caused but the ground of the woodlot sitting between us all had been burned.

This type of fire is called a cool fire or surface fire, it was low burning and did not affect the canopy.  Although, this fire was not a prescribed fire it still has its benefits. I know some of the landowners affected are not happy, but I tried explaining to them that its actually “good” and since they did not lose any mature trees they will see in the near future that it has benefited them.  Forest fires have been used since forever because of all their benefits.  Fires can minimize the spread of disease and insects, it can remove the presence of invasive species that are not used to fire, it can improve habitat, and promotes the growth of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers!  The key here is native…fire helps bring back native species while burning out the non-natives and invasive species.  Some species require fire to regenerate! Serotinous cones such as the jack pine need fire to open up the cone and release the seeds. Fire is healthy when done correctly.

Although this was not a prescribed fire, I believe it will benefit the area burned in a positive way. But lesson learned to neighbors–consult Smokey Bear and do not burn leaves when its dry as dry out!

Best management for the future may include the scarier approach

Overview of fire- Notice only small brush was burned still ample regeneration left behind
Overview of fire- Notice only small brush was burned still ample regeneration left behind
Firebreak trench made by MI DNR
Firebreak trench made by MI DNR
3ft from my shed!!
3ft from back end of my shed!!

Three Days…No Flannel- Day 3

Mayor in TX: “I am going 100% renewable, but I am polar opposite of Al Gore”.

Al Gore: “Hey man, that works for me”!

This quote was quite funny, regardless if you like Al Gore or not Climate Change is real, renewable energy is becoming cheaper, and we need to do something about it before all is irreversible.   This Mayor is entitled to his opinion and just because he does not like Al Gore it does not matter because by him still going 100% renewable is the step everyone needs to take.  I am sure I will speak to folks who do not like me- but because the science, the facts, the reality IS real does not mean they will not change!

The third day, bittersweet.  I was filled with empowerment and knowledge but sad to be taken out of my safe bubble. Last night, at the board meeting I was asked what was one thing I found most beneficial with this training.  I responded with it was my safe place. I was given the opportunity to meet folks around the world and be in an environment to get the education, training, and empowerment to fight Climate Change.  Climate change in my area is still a taboo statement, so being able to be surround by folks with the same passion was one of the most beneficial things for me.

The third day was geared towards using the knowledge we gained and present with the most impact. One of the sessions was all about words, body language and tone.  According to The Truman Security Project words count for 7%, body language 55% and tone counts for 38% of the presentation.  Basically, no one hears the content of the presentation unless all other things are in line.  Another key point I took from this presentation was to identify shared values, when talking about Climate Change it can be difficult but for me personally I can connect “My Story” with folks by talking about trees.  Since it is what I do, I know my landowners share the value of wanting to preserve their forests so that is my main hook to keep my audience engaged.

It is now time for me to take what I learned and find my path to Climate Reality and get the message out there! Even if I reach one person at a time- that one will tell another and it will spiral. We have to come together and make a change.  This is the future of humanity- so wake up!

Oh, and I survived the three days…no flannel challenge!

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes”

“Blue Marble”
The Climate Reality Project
The Climate Reality Project
Table 36- Canada, Holland, US, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria
Table 36- Canada, Holland, US, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria
I graduated! :)
I graduated! 🙂