Minnesota

Opponents of tree felling aim to stop deforestation along Minnesota’s Lake County Scenic Byway – InForum

DETROIT LAKES, Minnesota — Opponents of a state project to remove mature trees along one of Minnesota’s most scenic highways have vowed to do whatever they can to halt deforestation.

On Tuesday, January 24, a Save the Trees Coalition rally was held in Detroit Lakes with about 140 participants to explore options.

Coalition member Willis Mattison said it was “disturbing” to see Norwegian pine and spruce being felled on Highway 34 along the Lake Country Scenic Byway, which began Monday, January 23.

Members are discussing a range of responses, he said, including civil disobedience, legal action and a request for a face-to-face meeting with Gov. Tim Walz.

“It was determined that the project was poorly designed, unjustified, totally against the will of the community and causing significant harm,” said Mattison, who has a home on Highway 34.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation project will rehabilitate a 21-mile section of Highway 34 from Becker County Road 29 east of Detroit Lakes to west of Osage.

In preparation, MnDOT will remove trees approximately 65 feet from the centerline on both sides of the road.

The total cost, which MnDOT originally estimated at $9 million a year ago, was increased to $13 million last September and is now estimated at $15.7 million.

MnDOT District 4 project manager Joeb Oyster said they met with Mattison and others on numerous occasions and heard their perspectives.

“We’ve made revisions based on their concerns and we feel we’ve done our best to balance everyone’s roadway, safety, budget and environmental concerns,” Oyster said.

Trees are being removed in part for driver safety reasons, he said, adding that a vehicle left that stretch of road and crashed into a tree, killing one person in recent years.

The project also aims to reduce the amount of chloride used on the road during the winter months, particularly where trees shade the sidewalk through the Smoky Hills State Forest.

Removing them from the south side of the street should allow sunlight to fall on the sidewalk, melt snow and ice, and reduce chemical use, Oyster previously said.

Mattison, a professional ecologist who has retired as regional director of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, calls it a “beautiful theory.”

He said anecdotes and data from a European study presented by MnDOT were untenable.

“I looked at them and there was nothing,” Mattison said.

Coalition members said they don’t understand why the state is “stubborn and stubborn” when the community doesn’t support removing the trees.

“Responding to the public in an out-of-state office is priority number one, and it’s so out of character. It’s just confusing trying to figure out how we got into this predicament?” he wondered.

Mattison still hopes to stop planned logging through the Smoky Hills, a 7-mile stretch from Snellman to Osage.

Time is of the essence, he said, because Highway 34 will lose a few more miles of trees with each passing day as the project progresses.

Oyster said the contractor doing the tree removal must complete the work before March 31 in order for the road rehabilitation portion of the project to happen sometime after that.

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