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Tree removal underway on Kandiyohi County waterfowl production areas

Along with prescribed burning, private and public conservation organizations rely on cutting and removing trees to restore grasslands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Pheasants Forever are working to remove unwanted trees and restore open grasslands on three waterfowl production areas in Kandiyohi County this winter. Tribune file photo

To hear the uplifting song of grassland birds come spring, brace for the grumble of chainsaws this winter. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Pheasants Forever to restore grassland habitat on three waterfowl production areas in Kandiyohi County this winter. A contractor is currently removing undesired trees on the 828-acre Yarmon Waterfowl Production Area northeast of Big Kandiyohi Lake.

Work will shift to the Florida Slough Waterfowl Production Area (520 acres) along Lake Florida and to the Uncle Matt’s Waterfowl Production Area (265 acres) northwest of Atwater in upcoming weeks, according to Scott Glup, project manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Litchfield wetlands office.

The work is targeting unwanted, softwood tree species including cottonwood, box elder, Siberian elm and buckthorn.

A native stand of oaks in the Yarmon unit will not be cut.

Many of the unwanted trees are located on former building sites that were present when the lands were purchased. These mature trees serve as a seed source and are responsible for unwanted trees scattered about the grassland site, said Glup.  

He said landowners neighboring the Yarmon Waterfowl Production Area were previously notified of the tree removal plans with a letter explaining the purpose. He has fielded calls from some people who don’t like seeing the trees removed.

The site is popular with hunters. Some of the mature stands of trees have served as locations for some hunters to erect stands or to conceal themselves while deer hunting.

Yet Glup noted that it’s important to keep in mind that restoring grasslands benefits all wildlife, including game species.

With only 1 percent of the state’s native prairie lands remaining, wildlife that is dependent on grasslands is hurting, said Glup. The populations of grassland birds such as meadowlarks and bobolinks have been steadily declining as grassland habitat is lost.

The encroachment of trees and woody vegetation adversely affects the populations of grassland birds. All the reasons why are not known, said Glup. It is known that the trees give predators an advantage over grassland birds that evolved on open, treeless landscapes.

The woody encroachment also harms the nesting capacity of grasslands for waterfowl and other game species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service works annually to remove woody vegetation from waterfowl production areas. This year’s work is being aided by funding from the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, thanks to the partnership with Pheasants Forever.

Glup said initial work by the Fish and Wildlife Service focused on removing woody vegetation from the native prairie sites still remaining in the Litchfield district.

Those areas have largely been cleared of woody vegetation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is now focusing on its larger tracts. The goal is restore the open, grassland landscape needed for grassland species.  

Kandiyohi County was almost entirely prairie until European settlement began, Glup noted.

There have been attempts to find commercial outlets for the removed trees with little success. It has proven cost prohibitive for the Fish and Wildlife Service to transport the cut trees to Benson, where woody biomass can be mixed with poultry litter as fuel for the FibroMinn power plant.  

The wood is piled where it is cut and will be burned on site. Those desiring to use it for firewood can obtain a permit to do so by contacting the Litchfield district office at 320-693-2849.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335