EAST BETHEL, Minn. (WCCO) — Just east of Minnesota Highway 65 in East Bethel is 570 acres of mature oak savanna, prairie and wetlands.
That’s where for years the Sandhill Crane Natural Area has been a haven for recreation and wildlife.
“This is a great little refuge, and there’s cranes that are nesting back here. Every year, it’s kind of a delight to see,” says Vern Otto, a local resident.
So imagine residents’ surprise when they learned about a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plan to log roughly 100 acres of the natural area. Specifically, the department plans to log the state-owned portion of the natural area known as the school-trust land.
The entire Sandhill Crane Natural Area is managed by the DNR, the city of East Bethel, Anoka County and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
In 1993, the four public entities came together with intent to jointly manage the land for the benefit of its unique biodiversity, wildlife habitat and recreational pursuits. In 2001, they signed off on a management plan for the area to carry out their stated goals.
“I was concerned,” said John VonDeLinde, director of Anoka County Parks and Recreation.
VonDeLinde was also surprised by the DNR’s plan to clear cut its portion of the natural area. He says that concept goes against the principles of the management plan and further violates the shared interests of all four parties.
“I don’t think they do need to do that,” he said. “We can still meet their objectives while still respecting the overall goals of the Sandhill Crane Natural Area.”
Those goals have been to manage the 570-acre tract for its biodiversity, habitat and recreation. Not only is it an important nesting habitat for sandhill cranes, but it holds other important and threatened species such as the Blandings turtle.
“Our goal is to harvest it and utilize the wood,” said DNR forester Bob Quady.
He added that the DNR land is comprised of mature oak trees that must be harvested to allow for a healthy regeneration of the forest. He said disease and age will claim the woods eventually.
The DNR is carrying out a directive set down by the Minnesota Legislature to create revenue from the vast holdings of school trust lands across the state.
It’s expected that the timber sale from the Sandhill Crane Natural Area will net the school trust fund between $20,000 and $30,000.
“When these forests mature, harvesting is the way to regenerate it,” Quady said.
The DNR also said that sandhill cranes do not nest in the forested area where the logging would take place.
If approved, the timber harvest could begin by early fall.