Julie Miedtke gets it: protect people and their livelihoods by keeping forests healthy.
Itasca County has two million acres of rural forested land. The forest faces threats including from wildfires and invasive species. As the county educator in Itasca, Julie works on programs that help the forest to be productive and enjoyable while combating these challenges.
Itasca County has invested in Firewise, which is a national program. The Itasca County program works with community groups and homeowners to encourage reviewing risks associated with wildfires and how to mitigate them. Once a fire starts, they can spread very quickly--consuming everything in its path. But there are real measures property owners can take to help protect their homes. One is to improve the home's defensible space, which helps prevent the fire from reaching the building. It also helps give the firefighters space to protect the building.
Chipper Days is a program developed by the Itasca County Wildfire Protection Plan Implementation Team, which includes Extension. Woody material donated by property owners are collected, chipped, and used for renewable energy. In 2012, 313 property owners participated in the program contributing 24,175 hours of volunteer time; 2,698 tons of wood debris were taken to Minnesota Rapids Energy Center to be used for renewable energy.
The programs also teach property owners about creating access and egress for emergency service vehicles.
"Our volunteer fire departments come to help us when we need them," said Julie. "Let's help them get down the driveway."
People use their land in different ways. Some people stay all year and others may have a seasonal cabin. Some rely on the land for their livelihood, such as with non-timber forest products.
Julie's programming in this area helps guide people as they make decisions regarding their livelihoods and forest resources. A few months after the workshop "Profit from the Land," a man had left a voicemail for Julie.
"He said in a quiet voice that the workshop changed his life. He is able to work and develop his craft in making furniture," said Julie. "It's rewarding--especially when you have a community that supports this work."
The Women's Woodland Network is another venue in which Julie provides education on how to manage forested acres for an audience that may not have traditionally been involved in these activities.
Julie recalled a woman landowner who needed a management plan. "I was able to get her connected to someone who developed a management plan and got her on the road to keeping the forest healthy."