Superior National Forest: Mesabi Project

Yes
Planning

Superior National Forest staff used the Adaptation Workbook in the spring of 2015. The team refined their ideas for an Environmental Assessment, published in October 2016. 

Superior National Forest staff considered climate change effects and possible adaptation actions for a large forest management and fuels reduction project.

Project Area

The Mesabi Project Area is located in St. Louis County in northeastern Minnesota, covering approximately 260,000 acres. Ownership is very mixed within this area, with about 40% National Forest System land, 39% private land, and 17 percent state-owned land. This area includes several different Landscape Ecosystems, including Mesic Red and White Pine, Dry Mesic Red and White Pine, Lowland Conifer A & B, Jack Pine Black Spruce, and Mesic Birch Aspen. Generally, aspen and mature/old forests exist in abundance, while birch-dominated stands are in decline and young forest conditions are in short supply. In addition, current spatial landscape patterns (primarily the size of young and mature/old patches) are smaller than patches that would occur as a result of natural disturbances.

Management Goals

Young balsam fir in an older pine stand.

The Superior National Forest is proposing the Mesabi Project to promote diverse, healthy forest ecosystems and to reduce hazardous fuels. Specifically, some of the major vegetation management goals of this project are to increase the proportion of the forest in the 0-9 year age class, increase within-stand diversity, improve forest health and structure, and create more large patches of young and old forest. Other major goals of the project are to introduce fire to fire-dependent ecosystems (red, white, and jack pine stands) and reducing hazardous fuels (young balsam fir and dead and downed trees) in 4 primary WUI areas. 

Climate Change Impacts

A fire hazard map for stands in the Mesabi project area.
The Mesabi Interdisciplinary Team considered broad climate change trends that are expected for northern Minnesota forests and the site conditions across the project area. They identified several risks associated with climate change, as well as several opportunities. Some of these include:
The Mesabi project area is the furthest south and west on the National Forest – closer to hardwood transition zone than pure boreal forest. The boreal forest communities may therefore be stressed sooner here than other places on the forest.
More fires start in this project area than anywhere else on the forest, because of the mixture of fire-dependent forest types, railroad networks and power line corridors, and plentiful human development and recreation.
The project area has more problems with invasive species like buckthorn than other places on the forest.
Mesabi has large river corridors with real floodplains, which is unique on the Superior NF. These floodplain forests are diverse and contain several temperate/southern species (boxelder, silver maple, sugar maple, yellow birch, elm, green ash).
This area has seen relatively heavy management in the past – 50% of the upland forests are less than 50 years old! This is different than other parts of the Superior NF.

Adaptation Actions

After considering the menu of adaptation strategies and approaches from the Adaptation Workbook, the Mesabi project team generated several possible adaptation actions. These ideas were further refined as the team developed the Environmental Assessment and Alternatives for the project (available below). Some example adaptation actions for the Mesabi project include:

Area/TopicApproachTactics
Red pine
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Variable density thinning as an option to all commercial entries to improve structural and species diversity.
Diversity plant new species (jack pine, eastern white pine, northern red oak, etc.) to improve species diversity in gaps and openings
Retain aspen, tamarack, and white and black spruce during thinning operations to maximize diversity.
3.1. Alter forest structure or composition to reduce risk or severity of wildfire.
Remove balsam fir and ladder fuels to prevent stand-replacing fires.
Aspen
4.2. Prioritize and maintain sensitive or at-risk species or communities.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
Regenerate aspen in areas that might be the best long-term habitat - northwest and northeast portions of the project area.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
9.1. Favor or restore native species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
Promote big toothed aspen through winter harvest.
Retain white pine, basswood, northern red oak, maples, and other desirable species during aspen clearcuts.
9.5. Disfavor species that are distinctly maladapted.
Convert aspen on sandier sites to desirable conifer and hardwoods that might be better suited.
Black ash
4.1. Prioritize and maintain unique sites.
Identify black ash stands less accessible for human traffic and do not manage these areas - they might be less susceptible to EAB.
Identify and protect vernal pools during harvest .
9.2. Establish or encourage new mixes of native species.
Cut gaps in black ash stands and plant disease-resistant American elm, bur oak, yellow birch, hackberry, swamp white oak, or other species.

Project Documents

Next Steps

A final decision for the project is expected in 2017, and the project will be implemented over the course of the next 10-15 years.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Stephen or learn more at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=44466

Keywords

Lowland/ bottomland hardwoods, Upland conifers, Upland hardwoods, Fire and fuels

Last Updated

Tuesday, December 13, 2016