It’s 2024 and this summer, the U.S. Forest Service will launch a critical spruce budworm response project in Cook County as the infestation spreads across northeastern Minnesota.

The spruce budworm, a native insect that feeds on spruce and balsam fir needles, fluctuates in 30-40-year cycles. The last significant outbreak in Cook County occurred in the 1980s.

The Blue Cascade Spruce Budworm Response and Restoration Project

In a proactive effort, the Forest Service will implement the Blue Cascade Spruce Budworm Response and Restoration Project, covering over 2,000 acres from the Caribou Trail to County Road 14, east of Grand Marais. This project focuses on vegetation management, reducing hazardous fuels, and converting dense spruce plantations into more ecologically balanced mixed forests.

“Many of the targeted areas are existing spruce plantations established nearly 50 years ago,” explained Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak, Tofte district ranger. “These plantations have unnaturally high tree densities, making them particularly vulnerable to budworm damage due to their lack of diversity, potentially leading to high mortality rates.”

“We might as well just go ahead and take them down now while they have some value,” Bogardus-Szymaniak added. “Then replant in those areas with species that need to be there.”

The project will see these areas replanted with white pine, red pine, aspen, and birch, creating a more mixed boreal forest. In the summer of 2024, efforts will focus on the Pike Lake area in Cook County, gradually moving eastward in the following years. Treatments will include clear-cutting with reserves, hazardous fuel reduction, prescribed burning, and mechanical site preparations.

The Forest Service’s website will provide additional maps, information, and updates as the project progresses. The project is awaiting the final National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document approval to commence treatments.

For more details, WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak about the upcoming Blue Cascade Spruce Budworm Response and Restoration Project.

Similar efforts are underway in Maine.