Sustainable Forest Management System

Statement of Operational Commitments

The Natural Resources Management Department is the manager of state tax-forfeited and natural resource fee lands on behalf of the people of the County. The main activity of the department is the management of the forest resources. As the manager of forest resources, the department operates on a commercial basis and is required to ensure that an optimal financial return is attained from the use of the forest lands. At the same time the department also has a duty to the people of the County to maintain the recreational and other social values of the forest resource and to protect the long-term sustainability of the resource.

This means balancing the commercial value of the forest with the recreational and other social values, while at the same time ensuring the lands are ecologically sustainable. In order to achieve the full range of benefits that forests can provide, now and in the future, the department has developed this Statement of Operational Commitment that outlines the commitments made in the Sustainable Forest Management System.

Managing our forests in a sustainable manner calls for policies that can be adapted to accommodate change. Change may result from new information about forest ecology and community attitudes, new management strategies and techniques, and commercial and non-commercial opportunities for forest use. This Statement provides a framework within which change can be identified and accommodated to ensure that the people of the County derive optimal benefit from forest lands.

Through our Sustainable Forest Management System we commit to:

Conserving and Protecting the Integrity and Longevity of Forest Lands

The Natural Resources Management Department is committed to maintaining a permanent forest resource that delivers the full range of benefits that forests can provide now and in the future. This entails protecting the integrity and longevity of forest lands. To protect the integrity and longevity of forest lands the department will:

  • Implement integrated management plans that link the long-term strategies for the desired future conditions of the forest with short-term, tactical plans through to site level operating plans. Plans will define operating objectives and requirements.
  • Where possible, consolidate lands through exchange, sale, or acquisition.
  • Prevent the encroachment of dissimilar land uses.

Compliance with Laws, Regulations, and Other Requirements

The Natural Resources Management Department will comply with all applicable environmental and social laws, regulations and other requirements to which the department makes a commitment to adhere. The department will also comply with the Minnesota Voluntary Site-Level Forest Management Guidelines and other best management practices. To ensure compliance the department will:

  • Identify the legal and other requirements that apply to our operations.
  • Track changes to legal and other requirements to ensure we have current information about our obligations and adjust our activities to meet changing requirements.
  • Participate in and promote the development and adoption of policies and legislation that are balanced, scientifically, technically, and fiscally sound, and provide a basis for improving environmental performance.
  • Require all our employees and operators that conduct field activities to be trained in best management practices and keep informed of the legal and other requirements that apply to their work activities.
  • Work with employees and operators to ensure consistent interpretation and application of all applicable requirements on our lands.
  • Inspect all our operations to ensure compliance.

Acquire and Maintain Third-Party Certification

Forest Certification is the voluntary, independent assessment of an organization's forest management activities and operations undertaken for a particular area of forest. Independent forest certification has been developing since the early 1990s, driven by market requirements for quality assurance, community concerns about sustainability issues, and policy makers seeking to balance environmental, social, and economic considerations in natural resource management. Once a forest has been awarded certification its wood products can be identified as being sourced from a sustainably managed forest.

The Natural Resources Management Department is committed to the standards of sustainable forest management as defined in the objectives and performance measures of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and/or the principles of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). To this end the department will seek and maintain independent third-party forest certification to the FSC and/or SFI standards. To achieve our commitment to FSC and/or SFI we will design, implement, and establish a sustainable forest management system (SFMS). Through our SFMS we will:

  • Identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of our activities.
  • Plan our activities to minimize or prevent unintended impacts to the ecological condition and values before we commence work.
  • Establish operating procedures to ensure that activities are conducted in accordance with best management practices and defined operating criteria.
  • Supervise and inspect all field activities to ensure that operating criteria and best management practices are met.

Protect and Maintain Biodiversity

The protection of the full range of forest ecosystems and other environmental values is fundamental to sustainable forest management. It entails the maintenance of the ecological processes that sustain forest ecosystems and the conservation of the biological diversity associated with forests (particularly endangered and vulnerable species and communities). Conserving biodiversity through forest management has at least three different components:

  1. Maintaining sufficient amounts of all native habitats across the landscape so that no species becomes endangered. This is referred to as the "coarse filter" approach (Hunter 1990).
  2. Addressing specific habitat and other needs of already endangered species - the "fine filter" approach (Hunter 1990).
  3. Providing some form of reserve areas (e.g. National Parks, wilderness areas) for each forest type.

The Natural Resources Management Department will strive to maintain each of the three components outlined above by:

  • Setting objectives and targets to maintian a forest cover across the landscape that is composed of diverse qualities, features, and elements.
  • Setting objectives and targets to incorporate stand level wildlife habitat elements into project plans.
  • Establishing procedures to identify and protect plant and animal species that are endangered or at risk.
  • Establishing Conservation Areas.
  • Work with Regional Landscape Level Committees and adjoining landowners to research and develop strategies to protect biodiversity at a stand and landscape level.

Protect Forest Health and Productivity

Protecting the conservation and commercial values of forests necessitates protecting forest areas from potentially harmful effects of diseases, weeds, pests (including feral animals), chemical, and wildfire. It also involves preserving the productive capacity of the forest through conservation of nutrients and protecting the soils. The Natural Resources Management Department gives high priority to the protection of public forests from damaging agents. We will protect the health of the forest by:

  • Developing long-term, short-term, and site level management plans that identifies priorities and cover the range of actions to deal with threats to forests.
  • Using integrated pest management.
  • Being on constant look-out for pest and disease outbreaks as part of regular site visits and inspections and by cooperating with other agencies to ensure early detection and control.
  • Working with the MN-DNR and other agencies and landowners to:
    • Develop and implement measures to protect adjacent public and private forest lands from harmful diseases, weeds, and feral animals.
    • Minimize the risk of the introduction or movement of exotic plants, pests, and diseases.
    • Minimize the risk of catastrophic wildfire through prevention and detection.
    • Undertake timely timber salvage operations in the event of catastrophic wind or other weather related events, insect or disease outbreaks, or from catastrophic fire events.

Simply put, healthy soils promote healthy ecosystems. We will protect soil productivity by:

  • Scheduling activities to avoid damage to vulnerable soils.
  • Matching operating practices to site conditions.
  • Suspending operations when and where ground conditions may result in permanent damage resulting from rutting or compaction.
  • Managing nutrients on site through silvicultural prescriptions, vegetation management, and slash distribution.

We will promote a healthier forest with better trees by:

  • Working with tree improvement cooperatives to ensure appropriate research, testing, evaluation, and outplanting of genetically improved seeds/seedlings.

Minimize Chemical Use

For both environmental and commercial reasons the Natural Resources Management Department seeks to use the minimum quantities of chemical in its operations. We will minimize the use of forest chemicals through:

  • Integrated pest management practices.
  • Silvicultural prescriptions that reduce the need for chemical application.
  • Establishing procedures to carefully evaluate whether herbicide use is needed and choosing the correct herbicide and application rate.
  • Using chemicals only where they are necessary and are the most effective option to achieve management objectives.
  • Using the least toxic, narrowest spectrum product to achieve management objectives.
  • Using the lowest quantities and concentrations of chemicals necessary for effective treatment.

When chemicals are used, we will establish and follow procedures to ensure that:

  • All laws and regulations governing chemical application are strictly adhered.
  • Chemicals are stored, transported, and applied in a responsible manner to protect the safety of the public, our employees and contractors, and the environment.
  • Any employee or contractor that applies or administers the application of chemicals will be trained and licensed.
  • Adjoining landowners will be notified.

Protecting the Integrity of Riparian Areas

A riparian area is the area of land and water forming a transition zone from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems along streams, lakes, and open-water wetlands. Riparian areas are among the most important and diverse part of the forest ecosystems. They support high soil moisture and a diversity of associated vegetation and wildlife, and they perform important ecological functions that link aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. To protect the functions and values of riparian areas the Natural Resources Management Department will:

  • Comply with all legal requirements and Minnesota Voluntary Site-Level Forest Management Guideline requirements for riparian areas.
  • Incorporate specific directions to protect riparian areas into project plans and ensure that they are communicated and understood by field operators.
  • Ensure that all employees and field operators that conduct operations on County-managed lands are aware of and understand what is required to protect riparian areas.
  • Regularly inspect operations to ensure compliance with project plans and legal requirements and Minnesota Voluntary Site-Level Forest Management Guidelines.

Minimize Aesthetic Impacts

Visual quality is an important aspect of managing the multiple values of our forest resource. By limiting the aesthetic impacts of forest management activities, wherever practicable, we can enhance the value of forested lands for recreational users. This can result in a healthy tourism economy. We can also retain public acceptance of forest management and timber harvesting, thereby helping to sustain a healthy forest products industry.

To limit the aesthetic impacts of our activities the Natural Resources Management Department will plan and conduct our operations so that we:

  • Comply with the visual quality standards in the Minnesota Voluntary Site-Level Forest Management Guidelines.
  • Limit the size of clear-cuts to no more than 120 acres unless larger cuts are necessary to respond to forest health emergencies or other natural catastrophes or to achieve wildlife objectives.
  • Avoid cutting adjacent stands on County-managed lands unless:
    • Stands are three years old or five feet high at the desired level of stocking.
    • It is necessary to respond to forest health emergencies or other natural catastrophes; or
    • There is good operational, timing, or silvicultural rationale; and
    • Visual sensitivity of the site has been assessed and visual quality guidelines appropriate to the sensitivity of the site are incorporated into the project plan and are followed.

Protect Threatened and Endangered Species and Conserve Areas with Special Attributes

The Natural Resources Management Department is comitted to reserving or establishing special management regimes for those areas of our forest lands that have special conservation value. We call these values "special attributes" and they encompass:

  1. Threatened and endangered species.
  2. Cultural sites.
  3. Unique geological features.
  4. Unique ecological features such as old growth stands.
  5. Social and economic values such as recreation areas or community watersheds.

Different types of special attributes require different levels of protection. In some cases, we can simply establish a small buffer area and prohibit operating activities within the area. In others, such as old growth stands, more active management protocols are required. However, in all cases we will ensure that the "special attribute" is protected by:

  • Establishing Conservation Areas for all areas where special attributes are verified.
  • Ensuring that all employees and field operators are trained on threatened and endangered species and other special attributes and are able to identify and report them if they are found.
  • Mapping Conservation Areas into our GIS system.
  • Ensuring sites are protected during forest management activities by identifying them in project plans and supervising activities to ensure they are protected.
  • Cooperating with other agencies and landowners to identify, plan, and manage areas with special attributes.

Efficient Utilization

Efficient utilization is about ensuring that we realize the full value of the resource, do not create waste, and maximize the use of trees that we harvest. The Natural Resources Management Department will promote efficient utilization by:

  • Using appropriate technology and methods during harvesting operations and on-site manufacturing processes to:
    • Promote efficient utilization of forest resources.
    • Minimize waste.
    • Minimize residual damage.
  • Establish timber scaling procedures to encourage purchasers of timber sales to utilize the trees they harvest.
  • Actively inspect operations for utilization.

Enhance Public Recreation Values

Northern Minnesota is renowned for its outdoor recreation opportunities, vast tracts of wilderness, and extensive freshwater resources. The most popular recreational pursuits include hunting, camping, snowmobiling, hiking, fishing, ATV riding, wildlife watching, off-road bicycling, cross-country skiing, and berry picking. Enhancing recreation value is both a social and economic benefit to the people of the county by providing a source of tourism as well as local recreation.

Proper forest recreation management should enhance the recreation experience, while at the same time, complement and protect the forest resource. Uncontrolled, poorly designed or over-used recreational development can threaten the very resource that provides the recreational value. The Natural Resources Management Department will:

  • Provide recreational opportunities by ensuring the lands under our care are open to the public for dispersed recreation.
  • Work with government agencies and others to create and maintain recreation areas and trails.
  • Control recreation access where there is a risk to public safety or a risk of damage to the environment or to the cultural or economic resources.

Promote and Incorporate Applied Research and Technology

An enhanced, better coordinated, and better focused research and development effort is essential if we are to achieve sustainability. Further research is needed in a number of broad subject areas: forest ecosystems and biological diversity; resource evaluation and inventory; the ecological and environmental impact of forest distubance and management regimes; forest protection covering disease, pest, and fire; silvicultural techniques; forest productivity; and other non-wood aspects of forests such as wildfire management, recreation, and cultural and heritage values. The Natural Resources Management Department will incorporate research and technology into our planning processes and operations by:

  • Maintaining a forest management information system that incorporates geographical information to manage data related to forest inventory, forest cover, soils, water, transportation, and management activities.
  • Using information from the forest management information system to develop site-level project plans, and short-term and long-term forest management plans.
  • Assessing existing technology for possible incorporation into our operations.
  • Keeping current with technology trends by:
    • Attending seminars, conferences, and training sessions.
    • Maintaining subscriptions to trade and research publications.
  • Identifying and evaluating research opportunities that will contribute to information to help us improve our management practices.
  • Supporting research in the following areas:
    • Forest health, productivity, and silvicultural techiques in the management of the forest.
    • Geography, wildlife, water/air and the biophysical environment.

Provide Public Education

We are committed to fostering understanding of and support for ecologically sustainable forest management, by providing greater opportunities for the public to obtain information about forest ecology, the management of forests, and the diverse social and economic values of our forests.

This will enable the people of the County to make a more considered contribution to forest management issues.

The Natural Resources Management Department will individually, or in cooperation with other private or public organizations in the State, engage in efforts to promote public education. The department will:

  • Make information about forests and forest management available on its website.
  • Conduct public field tours and information sessions.
  • Support development of demonstration forests.
  • Make presentations to school and civic groups.
  • Participate in professional associations and initiatives.
  • Participate in school education programs and the development of education materials about forests and sustainable forest management and uses, in consultation with relevant educational bodies.

Solicit Public Input

It is important that the Natural Resources Management Department be accountable for the stewardship of public lands and to be responsive to public input and concerns in the management of those lands. We take all input seriously and will consider any input we receive. It is the intent of the department to:

  • Establish and participate in a Public Advisory Committee to provide recommendations to the County Board on forest management plans and policies.
  • Periodically conduct open houses or other events within the County to provide opportunity to review forest management plans and performance.
  • Establish procedures to provide prompt feedback to anyone providing input or raising concerns including descriptions of actions taken or reasons for not taking any action.

Communicate our Performance

We are committed to being open and transparent about our performance. The Natural Resources Management Department will provide clear and complete information to the public by:

  • Reporting performance results to the County Board and the Public Advisory Committee in the following areas:
    • Summary results of inspections, internal and external audits, and corrective actions taken.
    • Performance against objectives and targets and key performance indicators.
    • Any change in land management strategies as a results of monitoring activities.
  • Maintaining a website that provides the public with a summary of forest management plans and infromation on land management activities and performance.
  • Responding in a timely manner to requests for information.

Contact with Local Tribes

Some County-managed lands are located within or adjacent to native reservations. In addition, our resource management activities may be conducted in areas where there may be resources of cultural, historical, or religious significance to local native communities. As a results the Natural Resources Management Department will:

  • Notify local tribal authorities of any forest management activites that will occur within, or immediately adjacent to reservation lands.
  • Consult with local tribal authorities at least annually to solicit their input on areas where there may be resources of cultural, historical, or religious significance to local tribes.

Ensure the Capability of our Employees and Field Operators

The success of our performance depends on our employees and the many independent field operators that operate on our lands. The Natural Resources Management Department will:

  • Ensure that all employees have the skills, education, training, and competence to perform their responsibilities with the highest degree of professionalism.
  • Identify training requirements and establish training plans for all departmental employees and ensure these requirements are achieved.
  • Provide all employees with access to all procedures, self-assessment activities, and monitoring results.
  • Establish qualification and evaluation procedures to ensure that we use qualified Field Operators to conduct our land management activities.
  • Train employees and operators on sustainable management principles and best management practices.
  • Promote the professionalism of forestry employees and field operators by contributing to training and education programs and providing personnel to assist in the State Logger Education programs.

Continually Improve Performance

Sustainability is about learning and adapting. The Natural Resources Management Department will improve its performance by implementing processes that help us assess how well we are doing and take action to change our practices when they do not meet the performance measures we have set. We will:

  • Establish objectives and targets for environmental performance.
  • Set challenging performance measures for objectives and targets, management practices, and operational activities.
  • Monitor our performance through inspections of all land management operating activities and other monitoring activities.
  • Conduct rigorous internal audits focused on assessing the effectiveness and adequacy of what we do.
  • Report, track, and trend problems and the actions taken to respond and prevent problems from recurring.
  • Use information gathered from the different self-assessment activities and from research, changing public expectations, regulatory requirements, and government policy to adapt and improve forest management practices and systems.