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Superior National Forest Update December 22, 2017

National Forest Update – December 21, 2017.

Hi.  I’m Tom McCann, resource information specialist, with a late December edition of the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior.  Here’s what’s up around the Forest for the end of 2017.

This is the astronomical turning point of the season, the winter solstice.  December 21st was our shortest day and longest night of the year, with a day length of only 8 hours and 32 minutes in Duluth.  That gives you only 16 minutes of day on either side of your eight hour working day, so if it seems like you can’t get anything done, you are probably right.  The winter solstice day is somewhere around six and a half hours shorter than the longest day of the year in June.  But, from here on, we start adding minutes to the day, slowly at first, with the rate peaking at the spring equinox.  It may not seem like it, but spring is on its way.

Spring may be ahead, but winter actually caused our roads to improve this last week.  Ice was covered by a good layer of snow which provides some traction.  Be wary though, people have gotten stuck in parking lots where the snow layer was plowed back down to the ice.  There’s now enough snow that unplowed roads are mostly impassable, and are being used by snowmobiles.  Snowmobiles are allowed on unplowed roads, as well as in the general forest if there is over four inches of snow cover.  Other than snowmobiles, there isn’t much activity out there on the roadways.  There are no active timber operations on the Tofte District, and on Gunflint there will be trucks only on the Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, and Cook County 14. 

Of course, there’s a lot of opportunity for other activities off the roads.  Ski trails are being groomed in most areas, though under heavy tree cover, there still are some patches with only light snow.  We are designating a few trails for fat tire bikes this year; check at our office or on the web for exact locations. 

While driving to a trail, keep an eye peeled for owls.  This year has seen a large irruption of owls where they move south out of Canada during the winter.  Particularly visible are snowy and great gray owls.  Snowy owls are possibly the owl most likely to be seen hunting during the day.  They spend summers in the arctic where there isn’t a lot of night, so they have to be good daylight hunters.  These beautiful white birds are often spotted near open areas, so look for them where there is a field or wet meadow.  Great gray owls are, as the name implies, very large and gray.  They have a hunting technique of swooping low over openings, which unfortunately brings them into contact with cars as they swoop over the road.  A visitor recently brought in a great gray who was found on the road, apparently unable to fly.  Our district offices are not equipped for animal care, and we usually refer people to licensed wildlife rehab people and facilities in the area.  This time, however, one of our biologists was on hand to examine the bird.  He is a bird bander, and knows how to handle owls in a way that is both safe for the bird and the person.  A great gray has talons that are over an inch long, with plenty of strength to drive them right into your hand, so they are a bird that must be treated with respect.  This particular bird was not happy at being in a box, but calmed down quickly once it was taken out.  It turned out that the bird was uninjured and probably had just been stunned and confused after being caught in the slipstream of a truck.  She was released back into the woods, away from the highway, gliding away on silent wings.

Enjoy your holiday season and our Minnesota winter.  Until next time, actually next year, this has been Tom McCann with the National Forest Update.
 

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