Why We Cut Down Balsams

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Fall Has Fallen on the Peninsula

The maples are turning red, aspen yellow, and balsams brown. The beauty of the Great Northwoods is only interrupted by the sounds of loons and…. chainsaws? I glimpse what appears to be a human tornado slashing through the trees. Charlie “Turbo” Erdmann rarely runs the chainsaw at anything but full throttle as he rips through tree after tree, leaving a path of destruction through the beautiful fall foliage.

A Historical Battle With Renewed Significance

CV has always been ‘fighting the forest’ away from its buildings. Early on, emphasis was placed on removing the trees nearest building sites and roads in order to reduce the chances of a tree falling onto something and to create a defensible space around structures in the event of a wildfire. Many of these efforts focused on removing balsam fir trees, a pervasive evergreen that spreads and grows like weeds. Red pines, birch trees, and other desireable native trees are then planted and caged where stands of balsams leave large clearings.

Alive, balsams are pesky, relentless, and thick. Now, a disease called Eastern Spruce Budworm is killing them, which has created large, dense stands of dead coniferous trees – the ideal fuel for forest fires. As a result, CV has bolstered its balsam removal efforts.

Budworm infestation blamed for forest fires

Chainsaws Replace Wildfires

The Great Northwoods has thrived for thousands of years without humans intervening with chainsaws. So why don’t we let Mother Nature take its course? In short, it’s because modern humanity has tamed and populated the area, and as a result we’ve prevented nature’s natural method of forest management – wildfires. We’re also attempting to restore the peninsula forest to what it used to be - towering red and white pines with birch treess and a few junipers scattered throughout. But playing the role of Mother Nature takes a lot of work.

John visits with two foresters to come up with a plan for the peninsula, with fire protection and overall forest management in mind.

Fortunately, groups like Lake County Firewise ensure that we are not alone fighting the irksome balsams. This year, they’ve sponsored a brush haul for Voyageur Road where residents are invited to cut and stack balsams from their property at the end of their driveways. Then, towards the end of September, Firewise will contract a local company to remove the downed trees at no cost to the property owners.

CV has also recently allied with Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District, which helps assist landowners with natural resource issues – such as forest management. Together, we are coming up with a long-term forest management plan for Camp Voyageur.

This past weekend, John “The Balsam Bane” Erdmann led a crew of men and women armed with chainsaws and elbow grease, tasked with stacking the sides of camp’s driveway with piles of dead balsams, much to the balsams chagrin. In the spring, we’ll be planting red pines as part of our reforestation efforts.

So, if you’ve visited camp lately, you’ve probably noticed significant changes to the trees on the peninsula. While it may seem to be destructive and unnecessary to remove so many trees, we are actually working systematically to destroy the balsams in order to improve the health of our forest and protect camp from wildfires.

The bigger logs are bucked, split, and dried. We’ll use them as fuel for the Sauna, Fire Circle, and Mess Hall fires.

At closer look, Charlie “Turbo” Erdmann is only targeting the balsams - not everything in sight - with his chainsaw. Oofta. Last weeekend, we cut 20’ back on both sides of the driveway, around Pine Stadium, and around the Mess Hall. Todd, the forester with Firewise, actually just laughed when we saw how many brush piles we had. It turns out that the grant he’s working under to sponsor the brush haul wasn’t enough to cover how much we’d done. He was like “…and I’m gonna need to go back for another grant to get all of this.” Alas, the war rages on….

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Special thanks to the Balsam Brigade: JE, Turbo, Suzanne, Felipe, Mikey, Zar, Eric, Hal, Todd, Mack, and all counselors who have assisted with the balsam removal and tree planting efforts over the years.

Wood warms you four times - when you cut it, when you split it, when you stack it, and when you burn it.

Phil “Felipe” Dodge

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