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In Response: Thank modern timber harvesting for creating wildlife habitat

Mike Ribich's column last Sunday (Hunter's View: "Modern timber harvesting is erasing wildlife habitat," Dec. 2) used statements about wildlife habitat and forest diversity like "my theory," "seemingly," and "there seems to be no evidence."

Unfortunately, it never used "solid data." There's actually plenty of evidence to refute claims that were both inaccurate and detrimental to an important part of Minnesota's heritage.

Minnesota's forests have never been more plentiful. The state has 20 million more large trees (of 19 inches or more in diameter) than it had 60 years ago. Less than 1 percent of Minnesota's forestland is harvested each year, and more than three times as much wood is grown each year to replace it. This information is from the U.S. Forest Service.

While Ribich claimed that "aspen growth is so rapid it out-competes other species of trees," the reality is that aspen timberland has declined by nearly 600,000 acres statewide during the past 40 years. In its place, spruce, balsam, and other species have grown to create diverse forest habitats.

As for very old aspen stands, the number of acres of aspen over 70 years of age statewide has more than doubled during those 40 years.

He stated that "deer numbers seemingly have plummeted." I can't speak for what he sees at his hunting spot in Itasca County, but the 2017 Minnesota deer harvest was up 14.2 percent over 2016 and up 41.8 percent since 2014, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Deer die in hard winters because of a lack of available food. However, thanks to food resources enhanced by modern logging techniques and young forest habitats, Minnesota's deer population is the highest it has been since 2010.

Yes, grouse numbers are down, just as they are in many nearby states. It might be, as Ribich mentioned, due to the West Nile virus. It might be from other causes. But it's not due to too much timber harvesting, as he also stated, as timber harvesting has decreased greatly. It's more likely due to too little harvesting. Minnesota wood usage since 2006 has declined from more than 4 million cords to 2.8 million cords annually.

No timber harvesting, by the way, comes from old-growth forests on state land, which the DNR has protected from harvest for more than 25 years.

The 32,000 men and women in Minnesota's forest-products industry share Ribich's desire to have abundant forests and wildlife populations. Our state is a national leader in sustainable forestry. Wood harvested following stringent guidelines is certified by independent third parties as sustainable. This means our state forestlands are being carefully managed to balance the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees with the long-term protection and production of wildlife, plants, soil, and water quality.

We in the forest-products industries don't operate in a vacuum. We closely follow guidelines set by experts charged with protecting the environment. Those experts include the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, a governor-appointed body that oversees sustainable forest-resource policies. The council developed site-level forest management guidelines used by landowners, land managers, and loggers on all lands in our state. They help ensure sustainability in Minnesota's forests. The guidelines are comprehensive, addressing a wide variety of forest-resource issues, and are updated on a consistent basis, grounded in the best available scientific information.

Ribich concluded his commentary by inviting people to walk through the forest with him. Our state's loggers and foresters take that walk every day. I think anyone who takes similar walks will be pleasantly surprised to see how effective forest management across Minnesota creates and maintains a healthy balance of forest age classes and timber types that provide excellent habitat for wildlife — now and in the future.

Wayne Brandt is executive vice president for Minnesota Forest Industries and for the Minnesota Timber Producers Association, both based in Duluth.