Minnesota's North Shore, the stretch of coast that reaches from Duluth to the Canadian border, is regarded by many as one of the most scenic areas in the state. Bordered by multiple state parks, national forest areas, and trails, this area is known for its vast forests and scenic views of Lake Superior. Each year many tourists make the drive along scenic highway 61 which follows Lake Superior's coast from Duluth to the Canadian border to enjoy all that this unique area has to offer ("Context Sensitive Design – Case Study 12," PDF). Along the way, they stop to eat, sleep, and shop in the many small towns that pepper the coast-line. That said, the forest as we know it today has, in actuality, changed significantly over the course of the last two centuries. Prior to European settlement, the North Shore of Lake Superior was comprised of a healthy mixture of conifer-dominated forests. Logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s removed most of the white pine and white cedar, and the forest that grew back was heavily dominated by paper birch and quaking aspen.
These coastal forests provide many critical ecosystems services to coastal communities in the Great Lakes region, they help to stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion, increase infiltration, attenuate flooding, improve water quality, and provide habitat for culturally significant wildlife like wolves, bears, and moose ("North Shore Animals"). In addition, Minnesota's coastal forests support a thriving recreation and tourism economy, and many outfitters, restaurants, and lodges cater to the tourists who frequent the area each year ("Tourism and Minnesota's Economy," PDF).
However, the future is uncertain for the wildlife and individuals who rely on these coastal forests. Stands of aspen have reached their typical age limits and nearly 80 % of the birch forest along the North Shore are old and dying ("North Shore Restoration Project – Cover Letter," PDF). In addition, conifer regeneration is nearly absent in the understory of North Shore forests due to fewer older pine and cedar trees to provide seed, increased competition from native bluejoint grass, and heavy deer browse. Both the decline of aspen and birch and the apparent lack of conifer regeneration have prompted attention and concern from many agencies and landowners in the region.
Because trees take decades to grow to maturity, forest restoration projects must be planned over long time scales. As a result, foresters are now faced with the challenge of predicting how the climate is going to change in the future and adapting their restoration plans based on those predictions. Along the Minnesota's North Shore, foresters at the Superior National Forest have been working in partnership with the North Shore Forest Collaborative to overcome this challenge. Soon, they will begin to implement their planned restoration, but it will be decades before they know if their efforts are successful.
Image Gallery Photo Credits: 1. Paul Weimer (Flickr Creative Commons), 2. Matt Becker (Flickr Creative Commons), 3. Stephen Handler, US Forest Service (with permission), 4. Brett Whaley (Flickr Creative Commons), 5. Andrew Munsch (Flickr Creative Commons)