DNR staff: Agency leaders disregarding wildlife concerns in timber harvest plan; Staff say wildlife habitat damage, invasive species growth at risk

Published 8:28 am Friday, August 16, 2019

By Cody Nelson

MPR News/90.1 FM

Wildlife managers from across Minnesota say Department of Natural Resources leadership is mismanaging the upcoming timber harvest in a way that risks altering state forest lands for the animals that depend on them and for people who recreate there.

Email newsletter signup

DNR leaders stand by their work on the sustainable timber harvest analysis, which guides the next decade of logging on Minnesota state lands. But critics say the agency’s plan could damage certain habitats and worsen invasive species concerns, largely because of too much clear-cutting of forests.

The new plan calls for at least an 8.75 percent increase in amount of timber put for harvest. State wildlife area managers, who are tasked with protecting and enhancing habitats, say the DNR’s analysis leans too much on the land they oversee and doesn’t account for the best available science.

A group of 28 DNR wildlife managers, assistant wildlife managers and scientists outlined their concerns last month to Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier in a letter obtained by MPR News.

The letter authors “do not believe it is scientifically honest or transparent to say that the 10-year timber plan is ‘beneficial to wildlife’” — especially on wildlife management areas, they write.

Some area wildlife managers worry species that depend on older forests are at greatest risk of losing their habitats.

“There are many wildlife species that depend on these forests — everything from deer and grouse to woodpeckers and owls,” said one area wildlife manager who wasn’t allowed to speak publicly on the analysis. “We’re concerned what impacts this increased harvest level is going to have on those species.”

DNR leadership denies the claims and stands behind its sustainable timber harvest analysis, or STHA.

“The STHA used the best data we have and explored many alternatives,” Strommen wrote in a response to the critics’ letter. “In fact, most of the staff and modeling effort focused on understanding issues around non-timber values.”

However, multiple area wildlife managers say their concerns were largely ignored and that agency leadership is bowing to the timber industry.

In addition, some staff believe the STHA could be in violation of state law requiring wildlife management areas to be managed in such a way that ensures “maximum production of a variety of wildlife species,” according to interviews and a DNR email obtained by MPR News.

The wildlife managers and scientists who spoke to MPR News did so on the condition they remain anonymous. DNR leadership instructed them not to speak to reporters on the matter and they feared reprimands for doing so.

Deputy DNR Commissioner Barb Naramore said in an interview that agency leaders stand by the STHA, and that it stays true to the intent of wildlife management areas.

“We recognize that every management action we take benefits some kinds of wildlife more than other kinds of wildlife,” Naramore said. “We are managing our wildlife management areas for an abundance of a variety of wildlife species.”