White Earth Nation


Description of the Affected Environment  

Prior to the arrival of settlers in the 1870's, the forest looked much different than it does today. Wildfires determined the character of the landscape, and were responsible for the establishment of fire resistant pine forests across the state. The forest consisted of an overstory of virgin white pine and red pine with an understory of mixed hardwood and softwood species. Both pure and mixed stands of tree species were to be found. At the turn of the century and into the 1900’s, widespread clear cutting of pine by the timber companies changed all that. The tremendous white pine saw timber was the main focus of the timber industry and demand was high for the lumber.

Following the massive clearcutting operations, fires burned throughout the cutover lands. The forest regenerated to predominately aspen, with a mixture of other hardwoods and softwoods to be found. Many acres, unfortunately, regenerated to brush land. With the overstory of white pine gone, no natural seed source existed and the pine that remained was found only in scattered pockets. Red pine plantations were established on the reservation during the 1930's and 1940’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps - Indian Division to provide the replacement stands for the missing white pine and provide an important and valuable timber resource for the White Earth people, today and into the future. 

A comprehensive and detailed publication; Forests of the Anishinabe: A History of Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Forestry, was completed by Historical Research Associates, Inc. of Missoula, Montana in 1992. This forest history provides an excellent source of information pertinent to the White Earth Reservation. Copies are available for review from either the Midwest Regional Office or Minnesota Agency Office.

Today, the Reservation contains a diverse mixture of tree species and forest cover types.  The forest is located in the north central hardwood region of Minnesota adjacent to the northern pine and conifer region. The western edge of the Reservation includes the grassland/prairie covertype complex. Aspen was once the predominant covertype in the forest. Aspen now covers over 17,000 acres, much of it in young, regenerating stands, with the mixed northern hardwood/aspen type covering nearly the same acreage (approximately 16,500 acres). Recent emphasis has been on the management of overmature, decadent aspen, and hardwood management has been largely ignored.

The forest is predominately even-aged, with the aspen covertype no longer the single most common. Paper birch, red and white pine, swamp conifers, black and white spruce, balsam fir, red and white oak and swamp hardwoods comprise the remaining even-aged cover types. Almost one-fourth of the forest (about 13,000 acres) is typed as northern hardwoods.

Timber management activities have their greatest impact upon wildlife by the vegetation management that occurs. Either through the timber that is harvested or equally important, by which timbered stands are left uncut. Comprising the major species of interest, and those most vividly affected by timber management are: white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock, black bear, coyotes, timber wolves, and cavity nesting birds.

Cultural resources are often thought of as the archeological remains of earlier inhabitants. Forest cultural products are still gathered and utilized by the current inhabitants of White Earth Reservation. Forest ­related cultural activities include wild rice harvesting, deer hunting, basket making, birch bark crafting, and maple sugar collecting.  Ash, oak, and willows are used for basketry. Sumac is used for ceremonial pipe stems. Even though the production of veneer quality sugar maple in this area may be unlikely, retaining "sugar bush" sites is important to local residents. These secondary forest products must be considered for management planning.

The White Earth Reservation Tribal Forestry Office in Naytahwaush, Minnesota is responsible for the management of approximately 55,000 acres of forested land on the White Earth Reservation. Federal mandates for forest management on the reservation, as specified in 25 CFR 163 are overseen by the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Minnesota Agency, headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota.

White Earth Tribal Forestry and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources share responsibility for wildfire protection and suppression on the White Earth Reservation. Most fires are caused by humans, and wildfire season is usually limited to April and May, with minor activity in the Fall of the year. Most of the fires are confined to open fields, sedge and cattail meadows, and little, if any, timber is lost. The White Earth Reservation Strategic Wildland Fire Management Plan and Environmental Assessment, completed in 1999, describes the current policies towards the use and management of fire on the reservation.

The White Earth Reservation Forest Inventory Analysis, completed in 1993, provides an important statistical basis upon which timber management decisions can be made. This analysis provides the current Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) for the Reservation, and information on the general health and condition of the forest. The analysis shows that the forest is in overall very good health with only a minor amount of insect damage. The primary insect problem is spruce budworm which attacks mature to over mature balsam fir. Disease problems are more common in the forest. The primary problems are Hypoxylon canker in aspen, dwarf mistletoe on black spruce, white pine blister rust, heartrot fungi attacking red oak and eutypella canker and nectria canker affecting red maple.

The analysis found a majority of timber species in the 50 to 70 year old age classes, with a general increase in mortality across those age classes. A majority of species in older age classes, coupled with a forest containing predominately short rotation or shorter lived species, such as aspen and balsam fir, will naturally experience higher mortality rates as these species go unharvested. The harvesting of mature and over mature aspen will help reduce the leading cause of loss due to hypoxylon canker, and result in a younger, more vigorous forest overall.

Because of the substantial backlog of overmature aspen, the objective has been to harvest the oldest, highest risk stands first. Clearcutting is the primary management system used for aspen. The effects of clearcutting are continually monitored, studied, and assessed for the impact on interrelated biological and cultural resources. Clearcutting methods are modified as research indicates. Hardwoods and conifers are routinely reserved from clearcutting for wildlife habitat maintenance and to ensure forest/stand/species diversity. Snags are left for perching birds and cavity nesters. Acorn trees are left for mast production. Landings and skid trails are seeded for wildlife openings.

The aspen backlog has fairly well precluded hardwood management activities. Hardwoods are usually encountered as minor components within aspen stands, and are clearcut to promote aspen regeneration. Although there is some question as to whether this area can produce high quality hardwoods, sawlog quality hardwoods are occasionally encountered. As the aspen backlog is cleared up, hardwood management will become more aggressive.

Hardwoods are normally managed for uneven-aged stand conditions. Hardwood timber sales will be selectively marked for harvest of poorer quality and older, decadent trees to provide increased growing space for younger and more vigorous trees. Hardwoods are also managed as reserved or selective harvest inclusions within aspen clearcuts, and by selective marking and harvesting within hardwood stands for firewood permits as timber stand improvement projects. Shelterwood and seed tree methods are also employed. Regeneration is primarily by stump sprouting and somewhat by natural seeding in areas disturbed by logging activities.

Forest development is the silvicultural activity implemented in a stand to meet the forest management objectives of the Tribe. The purpose of these activities is to enhance the timber resource through establishment, maintenance, and improvement of growth and stocking levels of desirable commercial species. When possible, forest development treatments will be accomplished through the timber sale contract and paid for through reduction in timber stumpage rates. If this is not feasible, separate forest development projects are implemented, using non-recurring or administrative funds.

Forest development projects are categorized as either Reforestation or Commercial Forest Stand Improvement (CFSI). Typical forest development projects include site preparation and planting, releasing young plantations from competing vegetation, pre-commercial thinning of young plantations, pruning, and survival and stocking surveys to determine future forest development needs.

In July 1995, straight-line windstorms on consecutive nights leveled large blocks of timber on the reservation. The blowdown was most extensive in Clearwater County, but also affected large areas of Becker and Mahnomen Counties. Overmature aspen and recently thinned pine stands were the major resources lost. Over the next two years, substantial volumes of damaged timber were salvaged. Hazard reduction projects were implemented which cleared fire breaks around homes adjacent to blowdown areas, and Winter sheared some severe areas to reduce the fire threat and clear space for planting

Since the windstorms of 1995 and the subsequent salvaging, the forestry program has fallen far short of its annual allowable cut. This has been primarily due to the difficulty in locating and accessing viable aspen stands for harvest. It is expected that within five years, aspen harvesting will be reduced to a byproduct of hardwood management.

The portions of the forest unaffected by the blowdown event are for the most part healthy and fairly vigorous. Maintaining a healthy, vigorous forest with a focus on sustained yield management is the objective of this plan. By continuing to concentrate management efforts on reducing the amount of mature and overmature aspen, and shifting the balance of the forest into younger, more vigorous growing stands, insect and disease problems will be greatly reduced. This plan will also concentrate on improving the quality of hardwoods on the forest and in converting poor quality and upland brush sites to higher quality species such as red and white pine, and red oak. Effort will continue on restoring all unproductive or marginal blowdown sites to a productive state by planting or other treatment.


Goals and Objectives

Goal: Continue current practice of harvesting overmature aspen to regenerate stands and capture value.

  • Clearcut near monoculture aspen stands for best regeneration.
  • When a significant hardwood component exists, clear cut low-quality and decadent hardwoods with the aspen, preserving about six seed and mast trees per acre.
  • Limit aspen harvesting to the period between July 1 and the following March 15 to ensure maximum regeneration.
  • During all harvest operations, apply principles defined in the Minnesota Voluntary Site Level Forest Management Guidelines and Best Management Practices for Water Quality.
  • Herbicide and insecticide use will be limited, and will adhere to the Tribal Pesticide Code.

 Goal: Restore all heavily blown down sites to productive condition.

  • Use winter shearing methods wherever timber damage and fire hazard are maximum, and regeneration is minimal.
  • Plant sheared sites to pine or hardwoods, depending on soils, whenever natural regeneration is inadequate.
  • Where shearing is impractical, salvage usable fuel wood, via contract loggers, and treat site for plantation or understory planting.
  • In areas where blow-down is not severe, improve growth of any regeneration, via mechanical release or other stand improvement treatment.

 Goal: Manage hardwood stands for the best possible product, based on each site.

  • Where saw timber production is possible, remove lower quality and decadent trees to promote maximum saw timber production.
  • On lower quality stands, manage stands, via selective harvesting, for wood production and wildlife benefits.
  • On poorest sites, mark trees for fuel wood harvesting by Tribal Members for timber stand improvement.
  • Manage all hardwood forests using multiple use principles.

 Goal: Work to restore the red and white pine cover type that existed here in pre-settlement times.

  • Plant as much pine as possible each year.
  • Where and when it is not in conflict with other policies of the Tribe, convert old fields to line plantations as they come out of CRP.
  • Site prepare and convert to pine all harvest sites that do not show adequate natural regeneration.
  • Preserve from harvest all viable red and white pine trees in timber sales as a seed source for natural regeneration.
  • Whenever possible, underplant white pine in poorly stocked hardwood stands.

 Goal: Consider visual quality and minimize visual impacts in all timber sale planning.

  • Adopt Minnesota Best Management Practices for Visual Quality in sale design and location.
  • Leave wide buffers along lakeshores and streams when timber sales are located close to these features.
  • Leave timber buffer strips, when practical, when timber sales are adjacent to main roads.
  • Preserve leave trees, snags, and natural terrain features on timber sale sites.

 Goal: Incorporate wildlife considerations into all forest management activities.

  • Increase communication and cooperation with the Reservation Natural Resources Department during timber sale planning.
  • Incorporate Voluntary Site Level Forest Management Guidelines for wildlife management into timber sale planning. 
  • Identify old growth or other reserve stands and areas.  Exclude from logging.  Preserve as natural areas for wildlife and Tribal gathering.
  • Where feasible, plant vegetative types that are beneficial to wildlife on logging roads, landings, clearings, etc.
  • Manage logging sites in a manner that does not remove large contiguous blocks of forest.

 Goal: Ensure environmental protection is the first priority when any new access roads and/or stream crossings are planned.

  • Locate roads away from open water, wetlands, sloughs, etc. whenever possible.
  • Construct roads with a "crowned" center to facilitate drainage.
  • Review existing access routes to determine if they are acceptable or if preferred alternative routes exist.
  • Maintain water crossings at a 90 degree angle to streambeds, and use culverts whenever possible.
  • Planned culverts and bridges should have ability to accommodate 25 to 50 year flood occurrence.
  • Identify potential limited access areas for the protection of cultural, recreational and wildlife features.
  • Monitor and collaborate with loggers to ensure that proper environmental practices are being employed.
  • Develop and implement a policy on the establishment and maintenance of forest roads.

Goal: Protect cultural resources and ensure no negative impacts from logging operations

  • Consult with the Reservation Archeologist during timber sale planning.
  • Seek public comment when timber sales are planned in potentially culturally sensitive areas.
  • Ensure all operators are aware of Federal, State, and BIA regulations regarding cultural discoveries during logging operations or other land impact activities, such as road building.
  • When necessary to operate on culturally sensitive sites, do so only during frozen ground conditions.
  • Preserve, manage, and improve sugar maple stands as sugarbush sites. 
  • Encourage growth of young sugar maple where dense regeneration is encountered.

Goal: Harvest all forest products in as efficient and safe manner as possible, utilizing both even aged and all aged silvicultural management systems, with special consideration given to: weather conditions, soil type, topography, road accessibility, stream and water crossings, proximity to lakes, ponds and wetlands, seasonal restrictions, wildlife constraints, raptor nests, etc.