Recently, the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation completed construction of a new Forest Development Center that will enable them to begin the reforestation of the majestic pine that once covered it’s aboriginal homelands. Most of the great pine stands are gone and have been replaced with other species. They were logged by the BIA, and the resource depleted.
Now the Red Lake Nation is working to bring the great pine forests back. Part of the plan of the Forestry Settlement Agreement with the federal government requires reforestation of the Red Lake Indian Forest. The big pine area, which has been replaced by poplar and other types of deciduous trees, will be reforested with pines.
Of the project, Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr. said, "A certain amount of money has been allotted to reforest, re-stock our forests, I feel it mirrors the return of the walleye."
The Forest Development Center contains three state of the art computer controlled greenhouses, a technologically advanced nursery, and seed bank, along with a laboratory and testing facilities.??The center has the capability of producing 1,000,000 seedlings annually.
Adjacent to the Red Lake elementary school, the center will do much more than grow trees, it will soon open its doors to students for historical, cultural, and natural resource education. The forest work itself will also be an area for education.
"The 50-year plan is to replant the 50,000 acre Red Lake Indian Forest," said Gloria Whitefeather-Spears, Red Lake Forestry Greenhouse Manager, during a recent tour. Whitefeather-Spears said, "10% of the land is infrastructure, so 10% of the planting has been shifted to the ceded lands. The goal is to plant 250 acres each year per district, of an overall goal of 1000 acres per year,"
"We pick our own cones wherever the loggers are," she said. "Tribal members are employed to pick the cones and are paid by the bushel. The cones are then shipped to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Akeley, who separate the cones by species."
Because the pines have great cultural significance to the Red Lake Band, Whitefeather-Spears said, "We pick our own cones so that Red Lake maintains it owns species indigenous to Red Lake, so these pines will be as native as they were over 100 years ago."?
Seed storage is important because seeds will seldom be used as nature would have it…which is to fall in the Autumn, lay over the Winter, and germinate in the Spring. So the greenhouse is set up to simulate all four seasons.?
"We fool the seeds so that we can plant anytime of year by using cold storage," said Whitefeather-Spears. "The freezer is Winter for the seeds, then they are moved to the refrigerator to simulate Spring, then Summer is in the greenhouse. Seeds fall in the Autumn which is their time for acclimating to the out of doors. In the near future, plans call for a shade house which will simulate Autumn."?
At the greenhouse, workers do soil tests to make sure the seeds have exactly what they need to be healthy. "We do ph tests on the water, and then modify the water for acidity that’s proper for a particular tree, so that we can provide perfect conditions," she said.?
The greenhouse is controlled by an environmental controller that regulates heat, light, cooling, shade, ventilation, and a CO2 generator. The CO2 helps keep the trees green and healthy. The greenhouse has irrigation too, which can be automatic or manual.
The three greenhouses measure 120 X 42 feet. All water in the greenhouse is reused, with a "flow-through" system, water is saved and then recycled.
Currently the trees being planted and grown are Red Pine or Norway Pine, White Spruce, and Jack pine. White Pine will be added soon. Trees need to be treated individually, because like vegetables, they germinate slower or quicker, and grow at different rates. Jack pine grow faster. White spruce grow slower at 1/8" per month.
The old greenhouse at Redby was dismantled in 2009. It grew trees for other tribes and four state DNRs. All trees grown at the new greenhouse are only for the Red Lake forest. None of the trees are for sale. In accordance with the agreement with the federal government, all trees grown at the Forest Development Center are to replace the Red Lake Indian Forest that was depleted so many years ago.?
The greenhouse employs two foresters, a manager, three technicians, and four greenhouse aides.
According to Jeff Fossen, Red Lake Forestry Director, the Red Lake Indian Forest Reforestation Plan implements the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians’ goal of restoring pine to pine site within the Red Lake Indian Forest. This goal reflects the Band’s independent determination that the perpetual timber crops mandated by Congress in the Act of May 18th, 1916 are of great cultural and economic significance for the Band. ?
Pine sites are those areas capable of supporting valuable species of pine as the primary cover type, and can be determined in large measure by where pine was historically found before the massive logging efforts of the 19th and 20th century.
"Many things need to be considered when analyzing this Plan," said Fossen. "One consideration, the program cannot jump to 1000 acres in one year. It will require several years to expand seedling growing facilities, accomplishing necessary site preparation, develop and implement alternative planting strategies, and gradually increasing staff, including the training of band members where appropriate," Fossen said.
Employment of as many band members as possible at all levels of the Plan’s implementation will not only provide badly-needed jobs but will also increase the cultural understanding of the need for the practice of sound forestry for the Band’s future.