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Superior National Forest Update - April 5, 2019

National Forest Update – April 4, 2019.

Hi, this is Steve Robertsen, Forest Service interpretation and education specialist with this week’s National Forest Update – a collection of things you may want to know before you head out.

One thing you probably already know is that it is our favorite season of the year:  mud season.  Not enough snow to ski, too much to go hiking, too much bare ground for snowmobiles, too wet for four wheelers.  And just to make it more aggravating, there’s warm weather and bright sun that really make you want to be outside – it’s just hard to figure out what to do once you are out there.  On the plus side, this means that this is the season when a lot of garages get cleaned out, cars get vacuumed, and yards get picked up because at least you can be outside doing those things!

If you do venture out into the Forest, be careful on the roads.  The spring melt has softened roadways, and shoulders in particular can be dangerously soggy.  Our engineer was describing one not uncommon situation where a culvert can be exposed and then worn through, creating a large pit in the road.  We try to repair roads as fast as we can, but in some situations repair is impossible until things become drier.  Be on the lookout for flags or cones that make bad spots in the road, and report any new ones that you find along the way. 

Roads also change considerably from morning to afternoon.  What seems to be a good solid road in the sub-freezing morning may thaw by afternoon into the consistency of chocolate pudding.  When driving in the morning, evaluate the roads along the way to make sure they will be drivable when you plan to leave.  When parking your vehicle on a roadside in the morning, beware of shoulders that may collapse under your truck when they thaw in the afternoon.  Lastly, there is often ice on roads in the morning and in shaded spots throughout the day.  In many ways, spring driving can be more treacherous than winter driving because the hazards are harder to spot.

The rewards of getting out this time of year make the effort worth it.  Chickadees are singing their ‘dee-dee’ song, calling for mates and setting up territories.  I heard my first red-wing blackbird of the year this week, and to me, that ‘konk-er-ee’ song is the real sound of spring’s arrival.  The male red-wings appear weeks before the females and are claiming territories in cattail marshes, setting up housekeeping in hopes of having one or more females move in.  The males do a lot of displaying, doing a sort of fluttering song flight where they try to fly while in a hunched over position that best shows off their bright red wing patches.  Away from the marshes, birds just migrating through still can’t help themselves from singing, even if they aren’t really trying to set up a territory there.

Other animals are moving around too.  If you’ve driven anywhere at all over the last few weeks, you’ll know that deer are everywhere.  They haunt the roadsides this time of year as the snow melts there quickly and grass and other plants start to green up.  Wolves, coyotes, and other scavengers are on the roads too as a winter’s worth of roadkill thaws out and is exposed for dinner. 

On August 9th this year, Smokey Bear will be 75 years old!  All this year, we will be celebrating our favorite fire prevention bear and telling you some bear tales.  A good bear tale right now is a reminder that it is time to start bringing bird feeders in at night, shutting your garage doors, and otherwise getting ready for bears to be waking up.  Smokey will be waking as well, getting ready for the spring fire season, and we will be keeping you up to date on that as the spring progresses.

Meanwhile, if you can avoid the mud, get out and enjoy springtime in the woods!  Until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.