Friday, April 6, 2012

Duluth Audubon Society Grant

I got some great news this week about a grant proposal I wrote for the Duluth Audubon.  The DNR decide it was worth funding.  It is approximately $13,000 to start restoring a section of forest here in Duluth, along the Kingsbury Creek.  This is such an exciting opportunity for the DAS to get involved in some "on the ground" work in conservation and for myself as an aspiring grant writer.  The project is going to be a lot of work but I think I assembled a great team of collaborators that will make it go smoothly.  I will go into more detail and post lots of updates here as the project progresses.  Right now I'm just waiting for more info from the DNR about the next step.   Here's the grant narrative to give an idea of what's going on.  



The presences of appropriate native forests on hillsides and along drainages help to perform a myriad of ecosystem services. These services include improving water quality, supporting wildlife habitat, mitigating erosion, and even slowing climate change. In order to ensure a healthy environment for years to come, these ecosystem services should be addressed and restored whenever possible.  The landscape around the lower stretches of Kingsbury Creek is an area in which these services have been greatly diminished.  Natural regeneration of key plant species is almost absent due to past disturbances, lack of parental stock, competition from nonnative vegetation, and browse pressure from deer. These factors are why key species such as white pine, red pine and cedar are lacking from the landscape.  The first and most prominent need of this project is a native, diverse tree community which can perform valuable ecosystem services. 

A second need of the project is to address the water quality of Kingsbury Creek.  The creek is a designated trout stream but according to the Stream Management Plan (DNR Fisheries, 2011) the water regularly reaches temperatures stressful to brook trout that are stocked yearly.  In fact, the MN Pollution Control Agency recently announced that Kingsbury Creek has been added to the State of Minnesota list of impaired waters due to lack of macro-invertebrate and fish assemblages.  The lack of tree cover to slow rainfall and snowmelt contributes to increased erosion and resulting sedimentation. These factors negatively affect habitat in the stream and at the mouth in the St. Louis River estuary, which is a US Environmental Protection Agency Area of Concern.  The mouth of the creek, according to the Stream Management Plan (2011), could be used as a quality nursing and spawning area for fish in the estuary if sedimentation were reduced.         

Finally, this proposal addresses the needs of the future.  There are many more acres in the adjacent landscape that are disturbed and suffering from reduced ecosystem services.  This land is all under public ownership and could potentially be restored to a more native forest type.  In order to keep this and future projects a permanent part of the landscape, Duluth has a Natural Areas Program that can grant permanent easement status to parcels of land.  To gain protection for this project and to expand it to the rest of the area, a long range management plan must be developed.  As this and future restorations take shape it is important to educate the community about restoration efforts and why they are necessary.  The education department at the Lake Superior Zoo will develop a program that addresses subjects such as basic forestry and wildlife principles in the context of a restored forest.  Finally, in order to follow the progress and effects of the restoration, biological surveys need to be established.  These will include breeding bird surveys, vegetative survival and regeneration surveys, and water quality analysis.


The main objective of the proposal is to begin restoring ecosystem services to the lower reach of Kingsbury Creek. The Duluth Stream Corps will perform all the site preparation and planting. A variety of trees that closely resemble a native forest will be established.  Species will also be planted that will ensure the restored forest is prepared for the predicted climate change and to increase diversity and wildlife benefits.  In addition to the already present paper birch and aspen, historically native species to be planted include white pine, red pine, northern white cedar, white spruce, and yellow birch.  This conifer component is significant for reasons such as thermal cover, slowing rainfall, and creating wildlife habitat.  Thirty five Species in Greatest Conservation Need are found in this type of forest.  Of these 35 species, 20% are considered specialists, meaning they use two or less habitats.  Transitional species such as red oak and eastern hemlock will be planted to diversify the forest and ensure its viability in the event of a warmer climate.  A diverse stand of tree species and ages provide more habitat opportunities for a greater number of wildlife species.  The diversity also makes the forest more able to survive pest or disease outbreaks without significantly diminishing its benefits to the landscape. 

Another objective is to improve the water quality in Kingsbury Creek.  This will be achieved mostly as a by-product of the overall planting.  There will be a specific effort to plant appropriate species directly in the riparian zone to shade the stream from solar radiation and reinforce stream banks.  The plantings in the adjacent landscape will also help water quality by slowing runoff from heavy rain events and spring melt.  Overall, this should result in lower water temperatures and less erosion and sedimentation. 

The final objective is to ensure that restoration of the sensitive landscape will be permanently protected, monitored, and used to educate the community.  Input from qualified professionals will be sought to develop a long range management plan so the land can be protected under the Duluth Natural Areas program.  Professionally accepted survey protocols will be used to survey planting health and survival as well as to monitor the changing bird and wildlife community.  The education staff at the Lake Superior Zoo will develop programs for all ages to educate the community about basic forestry and wildlife principles in the context of a restored forest. 

Another overall objective of the project is to contribute to the further rehabilitation of the St. Louis River estuary and the surrounding upland habitat.   Some past successes include work by the DNR and EPA to restore habitat and clean up the legacy of the harbor’s industrial past.  The river and estuary are important to this community for many reasons, not the least of which is for wildlife.  Its importance to birds was recently recognized by Minnesota Audubon Society as one of the state’s newest Important Bird Areas.  This project can be one of many more future efforts to rehabilitate this valuable landscape.

Tree species to be planted will include conifer species and deciduous species. Trees will be planted at a density of 100-200 trees/acre, depending on site conditions and current vegetative cover. Site preparation will consist of clearing an area with either a brush cutter or weed whip. In most sites, a 3`-5` diameter area of vegetation will be cleared down to within 1`` of the ground. In some areas, a larger diameter area (up to 10`) will be cleared to remove competition from woody species such as honeysuckle, buckthorn, hazel, or alder. 
Trees planted will be sourced from local nurseries and in most cases will be containerized seedlings. A weed mat is placed around the seedling and anchored using ground staples. Weed mats serve to eliminate competition immediately around the trees and help prevent soil water loss through evaporation.
In order to deter predation from white-tailed deer and rabbits, cages will be installed around white pine and white cedar. Cages are made from 6` high welded wire fencing and are 3` in diameter. The dimensions were chosen with advice from forest management professionals from the Natural Resources Research Institute, South St. Louis County Soil and Water Conservation District, and MN DNR. Cages are secured with a 6` t-post, a 1` lawn edge stake and 3 fencing clips.  Marginally susceptible trees such as red pine will be bud capped in the fall to deter browse. 
Deciduous trees generally need to be protected from mice and vole predation, in addition to deer.  Vented tree tubes will be installed to maximize survival. Tree tubes are 5` in height and are secured using an oak stake. Tree tubes include a bird net stretched over the top to discourage nesting.
Development of the long range management plan as well as performance of the vegetation and wildlife surveys will be contracted to a qualified and experienced professional from the community. 

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