By Kathleen Preece
Congratulations to all four regional Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year nominees:
- Central Minnesota and statewide winner: Frank and Mickey Smith
- Northwest Minnesota: Rod and Jill Wulff
- Southern Minnesota: Steve and Debbie Morgan
- Northeast Minnesota: Bill and Bernie Gothard
Frank and Mickey Smith: Central Region Tree Farmers of the Year & Minnesota State Tree Farmers of the Year
Nominating Forester Gary E. Anderson
Thirty years ago, when Frank Smith began exploring the forested frontier of his Crow Wing County Tree Farm, he didn’t liken himself to Daniel Boone. But he could have.
Boone is the iconic figure in American history who was pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman and whose exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States.
Smith, who retired as director of MIS and business systems at Honeywell, is the northern Minnesota citizen who is pioneer, explorer, AND woodland manager – and whose commitment to the land has given him notoriety as Minnesota’s 2012 State Tree Farmer of the Year.
When Frank and Mickey Smith purchased the 400-acre tract of woodland near the north central Minnesota community of Emily in 1981, they were presented with the many challenges that accompanying land that has been unmanaged and ignored.
One of the first things Frank did that year, was to obtain a forest management plan from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But he didn’t stop there. Since then, Frank has made it his goal to bring the woodlands under management with intent to raise and harvest the trees for their timber value, and to enhance the wood and water habitat for .wildlife. Timber sales, tree planting, creation of wildlife openings, and building and placing of nesting boxes are all part of the plan.
The Smith Tree Farm has 16 different cover types and six different age classes of aspen, black spruce, tamarack, black ash, northern hardwoods, and red pine plantations.
Five wildlife openings have been created and/or enhanced, and marsh and open water ponds are maintained.
Simply said, Frank and Mickey have created a wildlife paradise. Nominating forester Gary Anderson attests that the Smiths are “a great example of what can be done to improve a tree farm and bring it under sustainable forest management.”
Gary has known Frank since the Smiths purchased the property and developed the original management plan. He notes that the Smiths were attentive to changing times and woodlands have have updated their plan twice since the original plan was written.
Frank should know when updates are needed; he spends nearly every bit of his leisure time working on the Tree Farm. In the past five years alone, Frank has:
- selectively cut 65 acres which yielded 600 cords of aspen and hardwood pulpwood and bolts;
- clear cut 25 acre stand of aspen, which yielded 300 cords of pulpwood; and
- commercially thinned a 4-acre pine and spruce plantation, yielding 20 cords of pulpwood and bolts.
When he is not in the woods applying his knowledge, Frank can be found at natural resource workshops, learning a bit more about that forest frontier.
Rod and Jill Wulff: Northwest Region
Nominating Forester John Berglund
You might think Roseau, Minnesota is so far north that it’s really a part of Canada.
Or, you might think it’s so far west that it is prairie country.
The Northwest Region Tree Farmers of the Year would likely argue both suggestions with you. Rod and Jill Wulff have owned their northern Minnesota woodlands for a quarter century. The 240-acre Tree Farm has been under a management plan for over half a century.
Last year alone, the woodlands yielded 500 cords of red pine pulp and bolts, and 100 cords of white spruce pulp and bolts from a commercial thinning. Over the past 15 years, two commercial thinnings have taken place, one with the assistance of the Potlatch Corporation and one with the assistance of Boise Paper.
Rod and Jill manage their northern Tree Farm for wildlife habitat and timber production. They are eager to showcase their activities, hosting tours for local schools and 4-H groups, as well as tours for companies such as Polaris. The Tree Farm has also been featured in a book focused on deer hunting.
The Wulff Tree Farm is a multiple use forest. Rod once operated a shooting preserve on the land, and still maintains the trails for recreation. The couple are constantly managing and improving the Tree Farm since they purchased it. Rod has conducted thinning and pruning to improve timber production and quality, along with improving the habitat for wildlife. The couple has dug several ponds on the farm.
The Wulff Tree Farm sits along a county highway that serves to showcase a well-managed red pine stand to passersby. Rod and Jill are not keeping their Tree Farm a secret: the Minnesota Tree Farm sign announces the red pine stand and is easily seen from the county highway.
Steve and Debbie Morgan: Southern Region
Nominating Forester Terry Helbig
If anyone should be given honors for their “family management” of a Tree Farm, it is Steve and Debbie Morgan. On September 16, 2011, the couple hosted a birthday celebration for the trees of their Tree Farm family. That’s right, their trees. These Southern Region Tree Farmers of the Year celebrated the Norway (red) pine that were planted 50 years ago on their Tree Farm located south of Wabasha, Minnesota.
Steve Morgan, who operates an insurance agency in Faribault, bought the pine-covered land 21 years ago. He soon began to actively manage the property. The 35 acres were quickly put into Tree Farm management. Over the past 20 years, the stand has been pruned, thinned a number of times, and inter-planted with some white pine, (with buckthorn control serving as one of Steve and Debbie’s hobbies!)
Steve explains that, in addition to the presence of buckthorn, other challenges have been encountered during their forest management endeavors, including recovering from a hailstorm and dealing with the introduction of thistle (likely brought in by logging equipment used in a thinning).
However, the management objective of these Southern Region Tree Farmers of the Year has been achieved: “joy in owning a woodland.” The Morgans use the Tree Farm as a weekend retreat and for recreating and hunting.
According to nominating forester Terry Helbig, the management of the Morgan Tree Farm is very intensive. Steve has pruned 35 acres to allow himself a better view of the trees. This was followed up by a thinning in 1993 and a second one in 2011. The goal of both thinnings was to improve the quality of the stand by removing double tops that had been caused by a 1973 storm.
As the stand was opened up, the oak became established in the understory; Steve has begun pruning these oaks. His long-term goal is to have a stand of Norway pine that look like those at Itasca State Park! To complement the stand, Steve planted white pine in the openings. Over the years, Steve has kept meticulous records, and has placed the Tree Farm in the 2c Managed Forest tax classification.
The 2011 birthday party was a noted event in the life of this Tree Farm. At the party, Steve and Debbie were hosts to a special guest – the man who had planted those pines 50 years prior – Loyde Wilcox. Loyde was presented with a tree cookie noting the significant events of the life of the plantation by marks in the wood. Even the planting machine that Loyde had used to plant the trees was brought to the party.
Bill and Bernie Gothard: Northeast Region
Nominating Foresters Jim Berkeland and Quintin Legler
It is one thing to walk the walk of forestry. And it’s another (and often times an even more time consuming task) to talk the talk of forestry.
Bill and Bernie Gothard have walked AND they have talked. In fact, Bill enrolled and participated in the Woodland Adviser course that consumed eight precious weekends of his time. And he has made the commitment to share the messages of good forestry with other landowners.
Bill and Bernie are Minnesota’s Northeast Tree Farmers of the Year. Their 69-acre Tree Farm has been under their ownership since 1994, and under a written forest management plan since 1995. In fact, the Tree Farm has been certified since 1995. It is located near Grand Rapids.
All of the forest management activities on the Tree Farm are conducted by Bill, except for the commercial logging practices. The couple has completed a selective cut-to-length harvest yielding 600 cords of pulp and bolts, 100 cords of birch, 100 cords of balsam and 400 cords of spruce.
The couple reforested the land by planting white spruce and red pine, with natural regeneration of white pine, aspen, and birch. In fact, Bill and Bernie plant trees every spring. They also transplant natural seedlings that are growing too close together on the Tree Farm. They work continuously at releasing, spacing, and pruning their trees – all of this work is done by hand with many hours a week spent in the woods. They have not let the plantings fend for themselves, but rather are committed to bud capping and hand-releasing the spruce and the pine.
The Gothard’s neighbors do not have to wonder what is going on next door: Bill and Bernie advocate Tree Farming, tree planting, and forest management to their neighbors!
Two miles of trails help the Gothards reach one of their management objectives: recreation. They hunt, ski, and snowshoe the trails as each season allows.
They are members of the Itasca County Woodland Association.
The members of the Minnesota State Tree Farm Committee raise their Tree Farming hats in honor of Bill and Bernie Gothard.