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White Pine News

St. Cloud Times January 20, 1997

Protecting the great white pine

Ecologist Lynn Rogers is worried that wildlife habitat will be destroyed
By Kevin Allenspach
Times Sports Writer

Lynn Rogers worries about what might happen to his friends someday. He's concerned about where they live, and what may happen to their homes.

That's why he's been trekking across Minnesota to try and get the work out about what he feels is a pending environmental tragedy with the potential to be as disastrous as any other in recent times.

Rogers, a wildlife ecologist from Ely, spent 25 years studying black bears. He is perhaps the foremost authority on the animals, having written more than 100 scientific papers and four books since obtaining his Ph.D. in wildlife biology.

"I spent a lot of time walking and sleeping wth them," said Rogers, whose flowing white hair gives him the look of a college professor. "I grew to care about them very deeply. And I care about the environment. That's why I spend money to travel around and tell people the things I do."

Rogers, who studied bears who had been fitted with special radio collars until 1992, recently made several appearances this week in St. Cloud to speak about the destruction of a significant part of their habitat - white pine trees.

According to Rogers' research, the bear he studied made 9- percent of their beds at the bases of old white pines. Bald eagles, another species he has researched, tend to make 80 percent of their nests in white pines.

The trees are important because they can grow as loarge as six feet in diameter, and can reach as high as 200 feet tall. They provide excellent bark and branches for bears to climb and evade danger, and their upper limbs are prime for eagles to view their territory from the highest perch possible. The trees also benefit a multitude of other animals more indirectly.

"Everybody thinks we're just crazy environmentalists trying to keep logging companies from cutting down trees," said Rogers, who spoke at St. Cloud State and St. John's as well as several area high schools. "It's understandable that people don't get too worked up about this, especially if they don't know about it. But we're talking about losing a resource that won't come back if we're not careful."

And extinction of the trees could take the animals away too.

Based on an original total of 3-1/2 million acres of white pines in 1837, when Minnesota was first being settled, just 2 percent of that total remain on state-governed land. Although just 67,000 acres remain, that is purportedly too much for the white pine to receive protected status as a species of special concern.

Not everyone agrees.

"We (in the state forestry department) don't always see eye-to-eye with him," said Bob Nelson, out of the St. Cloud office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division. "Is white pine endangered? No way. The one good think that will come from (Rogers') views is that it may make regeneration a higher priority. Right now we can do that, and white pine grows exceptionally well on the sand plains around central Minnesota.

"Where we have differences of opinion is that we don't view white pine as a forest cover type of species. It grows well with oaks, maples and other hardwoods, but not necessarily in huge stands by itself."

Rogers, who spent 17 years working for the U.S. Forest Service until his recent retirement, has formed the White Pine Society in an effort to make his argument heard. While he doesn't advocate a ban on harvest of white pine trees, he is urging people to contact their local and state legislators in an effort to put a two-year pause on the approval of logging contracts for white pines. In that time, he hopes the state will formulate a plan for the sustainable harvest of trees.

"That wood is mostly used for furniture - and I like furniture in my house just like anybody else," Rogers said. "All I's saying is we have to make suer the big trees will come back. Right now, the ones being planted and then harvested again never reach maturity. The ecosystem isn't cycling the way it should."

On Jan. 20, the White Pine Society unveiled a list of recommendations to the state as to how to accomplish that goal. The organization hopes to push for improvements in forest regulation that will, in turn, perhaps save the homes of the many black bears he trailed across the north half of the state.

"It's very important to make people aware of this issue," said John H. Peck, a professor of biology at St. Cloud State. "(Rogers') is a very respected voice in this field and there are many ecological lessons we can learn from what's going on."

For information, contact your legislator, or access the White Pine Society on the internet at: www.whitepines.org. Officials with the DNR can be reached at 612-296-4499.