The Brainerd School Board Monday established a fire management plan for the school forest that surrounds Forestview Middle School in Baxter.
This plan, based on a recommendation made by the school forest management committee, will include a prescribed burning of a six to eight-acre designated area of the 60-acre forest this spring to create a fire break through the forest if a natural forest fire occurs. The area will then become a jack pine savannah, one of several habitat types that will be managed in the school forest as an educational resource for students.
Board member Kent Montgomery said that many forest areas, including those at Forestview, have become overgrown with lots of brush and downed trees. Since these areas are protected they don't burn periodically as they would naturally. These overgrown areas then pose a greater threat to the community when a natural forest fire does occur.
Montgomery said the controlled burning will be paid for through a federal grant secured by the Nature Conservancy, which for years has been doing jack pine savannah restoration in 180 acres of land the Nature Conservancy owns in the Northland Arboretum.
The school forest, established by the school board last February, is located on about 60 acres of the 181 acres owned by the school district at Forestview Middle School. The school forest area can't be used for buildings or athletic fields because of wetlands, setbacks and unbuildable areas in between the wetlands. By becoming a school forest, this area creates educational opportunities for all students in Brainerd schools and provides green space for the surrounding community.
The former Potlatch land was heavily logged in 2000 and 2001. There are six different habitat types that will be managed in the school forest: Aspen, conifer, jack pine savannah, oak, mature peripheral stands and wetlands.
Historically, the jack pine savannahs dominated the Baxter area before European settlement. They are characterized by prairie vegetation with scattered jack pines, about 15-20 trees per acre, with enough sunlight for the prairie grasses to grow, said Montgomery.
Without the Nature Conservancy grant and its work, it may have taken the district about 6-8 years to develop its jack pine savannah, he said.
Montgomery said they hope to get students out into the school forest this spring where they'll be able to study the jack pine savannah as it develops in their own backyard.
"This is a real watershed moment for us," said Montgomery. "This is the first time we've had every middle schooler in one building with the same opportunity. They're all in one building and the 60-acre site is just footsteps from their classroom. They can take advantage of this on a regular basis. A school forest is really going to be a tremendous asset for Forestview."
Montgomery said the controlled burning in the school forest will take place in early spring, initially with the areas of pushed-up stumps from past logging and other downed vegetation. Fire breaks also will be developed, which will become part of the forest trail system. Then the trees will be thinned out in the six to eight-acre area, keeping the fires small and controllable.
Montgomery said the fires will be conducted under tightly prescribed conditions so smoke isn't a problem for neighbors.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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