An effort to restore part of Belwin Conservancy to natural prairie has meant the cutting of a large stand of pines that were planted by farmers in the 1950s or 1960s. While the move isn’t going over well with some of the preserve’s neighbors, its managers say the work is necessary to restore healthy prairie habitat that is native to the area.
The Pioneer Press reports the Conservancy recently removed a large stand of pines, disrupting scenery that some nearby residents had become fond of:
The area is being restored to what it looked like in 1848, when surveyors described it as “first-rate rolling prairie,” said Tara Kelly, director of ecological restoration for the conservancy.
The land being cleared is about 44 acres, about 3 percent of the 1,364 acres the conservancy owns in the lower St. Croix River Valley. In addition to ridding the area of pines, workers are pulling out buckthorn and cutting other woody debris.
“This whole area was a line of pine trees,” Kelly said last week as she toured the area on an ATV. “Now you can get a feel for the lay of the land and the glacial history. Once it’s prairie, it will be even more spectacular.”
On its website, Belwin describes its restoration efforts as dependent on strong science, using local seed sources to grow natural prairie:
Belwin finds balance in land management preservation while respecting and cooperating with adjoining community leaders and owners of neighboring properties. Working collaboratively with a range of environmental specialists, Belwin safeguards the natural environment – air, water, land, native flora and fauna through outreach activities is teaching others to respect it.
On a Facebook discussion about it, an individual asked how cutting down red pines, Minnesota’s state tree, could possibly be good for the environment. The commenter mentioned the perceived destruction of wildlife habitat, and the effect of cutting down trees on global warming. The Belwin Conservancy responded:
Because the red pines that were planted in rows in this pine plantation are not native to this area, there are few birds that utilize them. They also don’t do nearly as much to prevent erosion as a native prairie and there’s more biomass per acre to absorb carbon dioxide with a restored prairie than a pine plantation… the red pine is not native to this part of Minnesota- look at the range map on Wikipedia.
Here’s that Red pine range map from Wikipedia:
If you click through and look closely, you’ll see the Red pine’s natural habitat doesn’t quite reach to Afton.