Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

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Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Monday, March 07, 2005

North Woods for Sale

Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in northern Minnesota are finding fewer and fewer places to do their outdoor thing. The Duluth News Tribune details the transformation of the north woods from a place where timber companies owned huge tracts of land, allowing hunters access, to a place where big chunks have been sold off and developed. Much of the new private property is off limits to visitors.
"The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that since 1989, 400,000 acres of private forest land have been lost permanently to development such as house and cabin sites, driveways, and roads. While public attention has focused on heated debates about logging and ATVs on state and federal land, the social, ecological and economic impacts of this massive private-land selloff could be larger, said Ron Nargang, state director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Nearly half the state's northern forests are in private hands. "Minnesotans had come to see the timber company land as their own, pretty much as public land, and we assumed it would always be out there for us," Nargang said. "Now, it's getting sold off and developed. This has kind of caught us by surprise."
Most of the property is being sold to individuals as cabins and weekend retreats. The companies that are buying the land aren't interested in the land for timber, they see the value in the recreational use.
In the past decade, more than 13 million acres of private, industrial timberland has changed hands nationally -- an amount equal to six Yellowstone National Parks. Most of it was owned by former paper and mill companies that are getting out of the land business. And nearly all of it is being purchased by Timber Investment Management Organizations, or TIMOs.
Hunters are the most upset about the changes, losing access to land they had come to consider their own 'hunting grounds". So no hunting, no tree cutting, you'd think environmentalists wouldn't be upset about the change. Not so fast.
While the DNR can't stop companies from selling land, it has joined the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and other groups to raise money -- including federal grants and state bonds -- to either buy the at-risk land outright or easements that would keep the land in conservation."...."The trend also is bad news for some birds and wildlife as the forest becomes fragmented into loosely managed and increasingly developed smaller tracts. Continued development is leaving disconnected pockets of the best habitat. Species from owls to woodpeckers depend on interior forest, away from the edges of forest where people, predators and competing species are waiting. Ornithologists say jays, crows, raccoons, cats and cowbirds typically don't thrive in extensive forests. But when a forest is fragmented, those species gain access to more of the land. Populations of several species of migratory forest birds already are crashing. Parceling off large tracts of land also makes it harder to manage for wildlife, removing options such as intentional fires and clearcutting. Some cabin owners are unwilling to have their nearby large trees cut, and even fewer are willing to allow fire or clearcutting, even if it helps species such as grouse or moose. "Divide a section up from one industrial owner to 16 new owners (of 40-acre tracts) and you have a bunch of driveways and cabins and new roads and lights. It affects wildlife. It affects timber management. You lose the connectivity," said Tom Duffus, state director of the Conservation Fund." You could call it the suburbanization of the North Woods.

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