"What kind of tree is this?" "What do they use that tree for?" "What is that insect?"
In 1965, Charlie Blinn's parents bought a summer and weekend place in remote western Connecticut. The 160 acres of forest inspired curiosity--particularly with Blinn's mother.
"My mom would ask a lot of questions, and it was the '60s, so I just used Google to find the answers," joked Blinn, Extension specialist in forest resources since 1984. Encyclopedias and other books were his resources of choice then. Though his methods have since changed, he never really stopped seeking answers about the forest.
Today many of the questions surround the future of the timber industry, after recent closures of major mills in and around Minnesota. Closures include Weyerhaeuser's Trust Joist mill in Deerwood (2007); Ainsworth's mills in Grand Rapids (2008), Cook (2009), and Bemidji (2009); Georgia-Pacific's hardboard plant in Duluth (2012); and Verso Paper's mill in Sartell (2012). Blinn, who has a 70 percent Extension appointment, focuses primarily on timber harvesting and road planning.
"Because of the mill closures, we're harvesting less wood in Minnesota, which has placed many logging businesses at a crossroads today," said Blinn. These aren't the only challenges loggers face: the forests in Minnesota are aging, which makes them more susceptible to fire, disease, and pests.
Charlie Blinn teaching White Earth youth about GPS use
Blinn designs and conducts logger education programming across Minnesota. To better understand the current status of the logging sector in Minnesota and to identify training needs that respond to the rapidly changing dynamics within the industry, Blinn recently surveyed logging businesses and conducted focus groups with loggers and industrial foresters. He also serves on the board of the Minnesota Logger Education Program (MLEP).
In the 1990s, Blinn was actively involved with revamping Minnesota's forest management guidelines which are designed to mitigate timber harvesting impacts. His research today continues to help refine these strategies.
Blinn's work also extends beyond loggers. He teaches about GPS use, forest measurements, forest biomass, and soil health and other topics as part of Extension's White Earth Reservation Math and Science Academy, which offers science, technology, engineering, and math educational opportunities to White Earth youth.
Though he's many miles from those acres of forest in western Connecticut (which is still in the family), Blinn continues to ask and answer questions about the forest.