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Superior National Forest Update - October 26, 2018

National Forest Update – October 25, 2018.
Hi.  This is Steve Robertsen, forest interpretation and education specialist with our weekly National Forest Update, information for everyone visiting the Forest this week. 

We’ve definitely shifted gears from “fall” to “late fall”, or maybe “fell”.  The leaves have pretty much fallen, and are on the ground just waiting to be raked up.  Well, actually, they aren’t waiting at all, they are blowing around making raking a pretty futile effort right now.  Nobody rakes the forest of course, and in a maple woodland, those leaves are a very important part of the ecology.  During the summer fishing season, we make a big deal over invasive earthworms, and that layer of leaves is the reason we do.  Worms are not native to our area, and they eat the leaf litter.  Researchers have found that the leaf litter the worms are eating is important for our spring wildflowers and for forest regeneration.  In maple woods heavily infested with earthworms, there are fewer wildflowers in spring, and fewer young maples to replace the old. 

In our yards though, you may not want all those leaves.  You can bring your leaves for compost in the Grand Marais area to the recycling center, or create a compost pile of your own.  It is amazing how quickly a giant pile of leaves in the fall is reduced to a layer of soil. 

The governor of Minnesota, along with governors of other states in a national effort, has declared October 24th through October 31st to be BatWeek.  This year, the theme of BatWeek is to “Be a Bat Hero”!  Our bats are in trouble from white-nose syndrome, but also from simply being misunderstood creatures.  Help spread the message during BatWeek that bats are our friends…because anything that eats as many mosquitoes as a bat is a friend for sure!  Right now, most bats in northern Minnesota are either going into hibernation in caves and mines, or migrating south for the winter.  Those going into hibernation are the ones at risk for white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that strikes sleeping bats during hibernation.  While people are working on cures and methods to control the disease, right now it is still capable of wiping out over 90% of bats in a cave, and has even put a common species like the little brown bat in danger of total extinction.  White nose has been found in two large hibernacula in Minnesota:  Soudan Mine, and Mystery Cave.  At Soudan Mine, it killed 70% of the bats, which is a huge blow to an animal which reproduces slowly and can live over 30 years.  We’ll cross our fingers for our bats this winter season and wish them a safe and happy rest, and hope to see them all again next spring when the mosquitoes appear.

If you’re visiting the Forest, chances are good that you won’t be flying around like a bat, you will be on the ground.  If you’re driving, you’ll want to watch for logging traffic on the same roads as last week.  Those are the Frank Lake Road, Trappers Lake Road, Dumbell River Road, the Wanless Road, Lake County 7, the 4 Mile Grade, the Grade, Caribou Trail, Murmur Creek Road and the Hall Road.  You also should watch for road work being done along the 600 Road west of the Temperance River Road.  That road work also includes heavy truck traffic on the Two Island River Road.  Overall though, the road system is in good shape, but the rainy fall has caused potholes and soft shoulders in some places, so keep an eye out for those.

Keep an eye peeled for deer as well.  Fall and spring are prime times for deer/car collisions.  Deer are moving around as food sources dry up and mating season begins, and they are very well camouflaged when standing at the side of the road right before they jump into traffic.

Speaking of jumping, I saw a snowshoe hare the other day jumping down the road.  His body was still summer-brown, but his big feet and legs were white in his winter fur.  Like the hare, we are in transition to winter.  This late fall season, between the fall colors and the snow, can be a great time to enjoy a quiet Forest with few visitors, so pack a lunch, head out the road, and see if you can spot a hare, a flock of snow buntings, or other signs of the winter to come in the woods. 

Until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.