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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International Day of Forests

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are so many quotes I could start off this post with; so I chose one that was simple and too the point but is also complex.  With just 10 words and a deeper thought a bigger picture arises.  With one acorn we get a tree- which produces thousands more acorns to produce more trees and the cycle lives on into thousands of forests. In 10 words- we have the world; we have clean air, clean fresh water, carbon sequestration, recreation, wildlife habitat, a friend to hug, timber, food, clothing -“we have everything”- all from an acorn.

Now, I could go on and on about the benefits of forests and the importance of them but we should all know by now how they provide us with the essentials of life… 75% freshwater, oxygen, heat… but I won’t.  Instead I just wanted to say thank you to all the trees and thank you to those who appreciate the forests/trees/and vegetation not only today but everyday because without them humanity would not exist.

The picture below was taken a couple days ago- sometimes we run into areas where regeneration like this just does not happen and we have to plant- but I wanted to showcase mother nature at her finest- volunteer baby trees! The landowner told me he talks to his trees- which I think plays a huge roll in the amount of white oaks we are seeing here 🙂

Get outside…Plant a Tree…you will be planting for the future.

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Baby Oak Volunteers! 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trash to Land Ethic

 “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
― Aldo Leopold

 

If you ever get an e-mail from me, this quote is part of my signature.  I put it on there in hopes to get as many people to read it as possible.  My hope is it latches on somewhere in folks minds and the next time they are outside they will make “better” choices than the day before.

Yesterday, I went out for a site-visit with a landowner who had just acquired the 10 acres of property next to him and he wanted to manage it because the previous owners had not.  When I say they had not…I mean they really had not. Reflecting back to the quote we see the land as a commodity to us…the previous landowners saw just that.  Because they were the “owners” of this 10 acres of woodlot, they felt they could abuse/use it in anyway they wanted because it was “theirs”.  All over this 10 acres was old dying trees, it was overgrown and unproductive but this is not even the worst of it.  Scattered all around the 10 acres were piles of trash, tires and old bricks!  I even saw an old baby stroller!  The landowner who I was walking with made the comment “maybe they did not realize the trash was picked up weekly”!  Instead of recycling or throwing away all this trash they hid it in their back yard woodlot. What they could not see did not affect them. The good news is the new landowner is chiseling away at this trash and cleaning it out and harvesting it to bring it back to a natural forest again.

This all brings me back to the Aldo Leopold quote on seeing land as community versus a commodity.  Land is more than a “object” that we own, land can give us so many resources and gifts if we treat it as something that is living with us; part of us, not that we just own it. We need to grow and think about what Aldo Leopold said YEARS ago about Land Ethic. Ethics are our standards/morals we hold for ourselves and how we apply those standards when making choices. When you throw the word Land in front; Land Ethics are the standards we hold leading to the reasons why we do certain things to/on our land.  If we do not have good land ethic the land will continue to perish.

We need to work WITH nature not against it. Treat it like family/community not an means to an end.

Aldo Leopold aldoleopold.org
Aldo Leopold- pure contentment
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Young forest
Young Forest Regeneration

What do you do? I am a Forester…

I am a forester.

When I visit home and run into old friends or when I meet new people at events and they ask what I do, I respond with I am a forester.  What follows my response is often one of the many misconceptions folks have about foresters.

1. The number one misconception is “oh so you’re a park ranger”! No, I am not a park ranger.  A park ranger is a job where a person(s) is in charge of maintaining and protecting a national, state, county, city park.  A forester is someone who actively manages forests both private and state. Yes, we both typically work outside–but doesn’t mean we are the same profession!  I am a District Forester for Conservation Districts, I help private landowners with land management.  This can range from wildlife, tree plantings, disease and infestation control, harvesting and management plans.

2. Secondly, the misconception of clearcutting a forest. Clearcut harvests are a common practice in forestry, but hello as foresters we love and want to sustain our lands for optimum growth! We are not trying to “screw” anyone over by clear cutting- in most cases the forest needs to be clearcut due to disease, poor quality of forest (best to start fresh), or the species present requires a clearcut for optimum growth.  For example- Aspen Trees- now they need to be clearcut once they hit harvesting age in order to open up the ground.  Aspen trees stump sprout and when clearcut come back like WEEDS and its great! They need that full sun and full water potential which is why “foresters” recommend clearcut, and aspen grows back so fast you will only have the eye sore for a short time.

3. Third, No I do not “chop down trees”. There is a difference between a logger and a forester, our jobs are very different but both work towards a common goal of forest management.  A logger actually does the cutting or harvesting of a forest where the forester can be the one to administer the sale and mark the trees but they are not the ones cutting trees.  A forester is all about the best management a logger takes the wood off the ground and gets it to the mill (buyer).

4. We wear the orange vest only during hunting season. Oh no no NO, the vest is a foresters #1 tool in my opinion, its an everyday fashion STATEMENT! (I know my friends back at the University would agree, if you had the vest you were in!!!)  The vest the beautiful vest carries all our tools and everything we will need for our visits.  In my vest for site visits I have so many things in it.  I have an angle gauge (to get the basal area), a clinometer (tree height), compass, gps, clipboard, knife, magnified scope,  pens/pencil, tree id book (I do not know everything!!), small notebook, and usually my phone to take pictures! There are so many things in a foresters vest- helps us be prepared and look super great 24/7!!

5. This weekends misconception….so you watch for poachers? This weekend while watching my Wisconsin Badgers win, I met some new folks and again when asked what I did, I responded with I am a forester and his response was “so you go out and catch poachers”!? Again, no.  I do not regulate what folks do on their properties or state lands- I leave that up to the conservation officers, not a foresters job!

So next time you meet a forester..thank them for actively managing lands for future generations and not jumping to one of these 5 conclusions right away!

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Inside the “mind” of an Ash
White Pine, Red Oak, Aspen, Paper Birch (L to R)
White Pine, Red Oak, Aspen, Paper Birch (L to R)
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Black Ash on Left

Wonders of the TREES

Ever walk through the forest and see something, stop, and go hmm?

Yesterday I was out on a 120 forested property with a landowner.  We were just cruising along, when we stopped and both looked up and went hmm.

Often when I go to properties with a lot of acreage to cover the landowners drive me around on 4-wheelers or gators so we can cover all ground and see EVERYTHING! So here we are vroom vrooming along when we had to hit the breaks.  Up above us was unlike something I have never seen before.  The tree branch was literally curling around making a doughnut shape! I thought perfect placement for a bird or squirrel nest.  Now, I have seen a lot of trees that grow around things, like a sign or nail or something like that. Trees have incredible strength to grow around inanimate objects in order to survive.  I have also seen trees that grow slanted to try and catch as much sunlight as they can, but never in all my days of hugging trees have I seen one curl around like this.  It is quite odd to me actually; what in the world  this tree branch thinking to grow like this?!

All Natural Curl Tree

To my next wonder of trees…the other day I was sent an article about trees and communication.  Whether or not trees communicate in ways underground through their root systems.  Now part of me is like yeah okay makes sense what she is saying and part of me is thinking no, competition and Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”.  Survival of the fittest is not saying the strongest always survives. It is often misinterpreted or maybe I am the one who misinterprets it but I believe it means the ones willing to change or adapt and the ones that are “smarter” are the  ones who survive. I am no expert on this!  So when I was listening to this forester talk about the communication with trees I obviously got to thinking about her theory.  When I was at this site visit he had a lot of regeneration. BABY TREES!!!! EEEE!!! Anyways, so I looked around at these baby trees and her theory did not sit right with me..if a “mom” tree is supposed to reach out and provide for the baby trees by giving nutrients then why are there a bunch of baby spruce trees growing under oaks? Does the “mom” not have to be the same species of tree?  Are the mature oaks providing for these white spruce trees?  Now I know, seeds travel by all sorts of ways but it was just a thought I had.  I like the concept of trees working together to survive…but I also believe in competition and space with trees all the trees are out to get the amount of sun they need, water, nutrients–why would it compromise its livelihood for a baby tree that may not make it? Her theory is valid and she has much more experience and knowledge then me, but I love the passion others have about trees and learning new things…its all a learning curve for the constant change and new discoveries people uncover!

It is all just so crazy to me, but I love the constant wonder…

Baby Balsam Fir Tree
Baby Balsam Fir Tree
White Cedar
White Cedar Horizon line 🙂

Two Brothers – One Property

Have you ever shared something with a sibling and it turned out good??

On one of my first site visits I went out to a property that two brothers shared and it was quite the talk. The front half ones one brothers (We will call him Ned) and the back half was the others (we will call him Fred).  So Ned and Fred!  Ned’s half was this gorgeous red pine plantation mostly.   Perfect placement of trees for optimum growth, tall, no major die back or disease.  Then we walked back to Fred’s part…Uffda! He also had a red pine plantation but the rows were all funny, there was too much competition due to poor planting and not enough pre-commercial thinning and he had all these straggly choke cherry trees taking over large parts of the canopy cover.  Then it tapered off into a maple oak stand where there was little to no regeneration and all the trees were past their prime.  Now here in Clare county pretty much all the soil is SAND (Yuck!) so when you get a tree as large as an oak can get growing there it begins to uproot itself because the soil cannot support the root system.  I explained to them that they need to open up this stand to allow for sunlight to promote regeneration and this is their response.  “Can we bring in hogs to rut up the land”?  I looked at the landowners–pondered a minute to try and grasp what exactly he was asking.  Hogs?! You wanna bring in hogs?!  Well yes, they will rut up the land and open up the soil.  But I advised them that this was not a good idea.  They had already expressed that they wanted regeneration of the oaks for deer management…well folks hogs will take away that regeneration.  Let me tell you why.  Hogs are kind of lets say destructive, they will rut up the soil and eat the organic materials, eat up the little acorn seeds in their area then when they are moved they will eat and rut up all that.  And if they destroy too much and take away too much seed source and your oaks are already not producing enough seed, there is no room for regeneration.  The forest will eventually decline and be left with nothing.

In hardwood stands the best thing to do where there is a lack of regeneration is to open up the canopy to allow for ample sun and water for regrowth.  To do this a crop tree is chosen.  A crop tree is one that is relatively straight and still productive and can be promoted to keep growing.  Then around the crop tree you take out any other competitors, take out those competing above (canopy space) and below to open up the ground.  Then you move on to another crop tree and do the same.  Eventually you have marked your crop trees and cleared all around them and regeneration can happen.  Now this might scare a lot of folks but its the best management for hardwoods, it might look bare at first but after a few years, that regrowth will begin and you can have the pride of being a good steward and forest owner.  Who knows maybe those crop trees will grow to be veneer logs!

Although the brothers had two very different plans for their “parcels” of the property- the fact they were trying to be proactive in their management is the key here.  Not just being reactive, when things get bad!

Learning experience from this site visit- no to hogs!!!

Red Pine Canopy Red Pine Plantation

Not from this site visit–but still beautiful Red Pine

“Normal Hike”

Is it possible for a forester to just hike like an everyday person on a hike???  Now don’t go taking that in any other way, basically when I go out walking with someone else, who is not a forester, I feel like a weirdo!  Just like if I took a walk with someone who knows rocks or who knows clouds or something along those lines, I wouldn’t know anything!

Regardless– is it possible?  “I don’t think so, Tim”- Al Borland (Home Improvement).  When I go on a hike through the woods with a friend I am still in the mindset of looking at every tree, looking at the bark, identifying the species, if it has any decay, disease or other issues.  I often find myself falling behind and looking up at the trees rather than engaging in conversation, or I become that annoying person that quizzes you at every tree! I mean if I see a beech tree and I ask my friends what it is and they get it wrong, you can bet your last dollar that the next beech tree will be quizzed!

So I challenge you the next time you go on a nature walk or walk down to your mailbox to get the mail, or walk your dog around the block to take a book, grab a leaf or take picture and Google the tree to know exactly what it is!

I think it is incredibly important for everyone, regardless if they have trees in the yard or not to be able to identify at least the basics.  Whether that just be the difference between a conifer tree or a deciduous tree.  It surprises me how many folks don’t know the difference. There are so many diseases and insects infecting trees, seems like a new one is always just around the corner; making headlines.  Awareness is key–so knowing what you have is the key to unlock the safety of that tree, and keep it healthy.

So the next time you’re hiking–think like me–What is that tree??

Answer to the post is…no; there is no such thing as a normal hike. And just because every hike with me is educational, does not mean it is not relaxing or enjoyable 🙂

Scotch PineRiver

What Tree Would You Be?!?

“What tree would you be”?  “Really, are you really asking me that”?

Way back at the beginning of October I was interviewed for my current position.  I had been through so many interviews and after so many I never thought I would actually be asked the one question I always hoped would be asked- what is your favorite tree and why.  Well at the interview for this job it was a little bit different, if you could be any tree what would it be and why.  I think my jaw literally dropped, I looked at the gentleman asking me the question and said “really, are you really asking me that”? He smiled and said yes and repeated the question.  I smiled so big and with great confidence said the Ginkgo tree, because I feel that I am a unique, strong and independent women just like the Ginkgo tree is all of these attributes.  Needless to say I think that one answer got me the position!

Ginkgo biloba trees are a very unique tree.  They are considered a living fossil tree that can date us back into the Dinosaur age. They are the oldest living species and are rare now to find in wild but thrive in Michigan given the right sun, soil and water requirements.  They are dated back to some 280 million years ago with fossil records; Now that is old!! They are one of a kind- the only one in their family.

Ginkgo’s are not susceptible to diseases; they are actually used by humans for medicinal purposes! I mean yeah there is leaf spot that can affect the tree- but it does no real damage.  All other trees are threatened due to all the different bugs and diseases spreading so quickly–but the Ginkgo stands tall and lives long.  The leaves on a Ginkgo tree are unlike any other tree with their smooth fan-shaped leaf.  In the fall the leaves turn a stunning bright yellow color.  They are amazing trees for university/school lawns, streets, or building green spaces because they are low maintenance and great shade trees.  Low maintenance meaning they require little to no pruning and they drop their leaves all at once- so one rake and done–Sweet Deal!!! Okay-there is one draw back here- the female tree! Yes, I know I said I would be a Ginkgo but ignore that for this next moment.  Ginkgo trees are dioecious meaning they have a female tree and a male tree.  The females are planted less often because their fruit–it stinks!!! But other than that minor detail–amazing tree!

If you could be a tree, what tree would YOU be?

Ginkgo Leaf
Ginkgo Leaf