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Frazee School Forest undergoes selective logging

A tree cutter slices a Norway pine into an eight-foot section with ease Thursday afternoon in the Frazee School Forest north of Frazee. The DNR Forestry division is overseeing an 18-acre thinning project. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 2
Detroit Lakes High School teacher Trescha Mitchell brought her natural resources class to the Frazee Forest last week to learn about logging. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

The Frazee School Forest is a bit thinner after about a week's worth of selective thinning of 18 acres of Norway pine trees last week.

According to Department of Natural Resources Forester Howard Mooney, Frazee alumni and teachers 25 to 45 years ago planted the pine trees. Planted in rows, the thinning involves taking out every fifth row of trees to allow the remaining pines room to grow.

"They were planted about 800 per acre, and that's fine when they're young; that's good spacing," Mooney said. "But when they get 20-plus years old, it gets too tight. The trees need more room."

If thinning the forest didn't happen now, Mooney said some of the trees would get crowded out and possibly die off, and the remaining trees won't grow very much in diameter.

The thinned, smaller trees are called pulpwood and will be made into chipboard, while the larger diameter trees, called sawbolts, will be made into boards. Mooney said the timber sale is about half-and-half pulpwood and sawbolts.

"The sawbolts are three times more valuable than the pulpwood," he said. "That's why we want to get the trees bigger because they increase in value."

The timber sale from this year's thinning of more than 220 cords of wood will yield about $4,000, all of which will go to the Frazee School District.

Cutting the trees so evenly requires specialized equipment that will take down the trees without harming the remaining pines.

For that, loggers Kevin and Dale Haverinen of Menahga use a tree cutter with a long grabbing arm that can reach out and cut a specific tree. The cutter can also cut the logs to a specific length. Mooney said with older logging equipment, the thinning would be much more invasive on the forest, as a machine would have to drive right up to the tree to be cut.

The forest is also home to other species -- aspen, oak -- a diverse mixture of trees, Mooney said. Aspen sales were held about 10 years ago and again three years ago.

The DNR Forestry department manages the 240 acres for the Frazee School District, which uses the forest for educational and outdoor recreational activities. The forest will continue to be thinned at a seven to 10-year cycle for the next 50 to 60 years. Replanting the pines won't occur for about 50 years.

"For the next 50 years, we'll be able to come in here and probably do five more thinnings, and when you come to that point where it's the end of the line, then you come in and replant it," Mooney said.

Norway pines can live up to about 200 years or more, but ideal commercial logging trees are about 120 years old, he said.