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Tree removal opponents aim to halt logging along stretch of Minnesota's Lake County Scenic Byway

The Minnesota Department of Transportation hired a contractor to remove trees along Highway 34 as part of a road resurfacing project. The logging began Monday, Jan. 23.

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Felled trees sit along Minnesota Highway 34 on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, 14 miles east of Detroit Lakes as part of a road resurfacing project led by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Opponents of a state project that involves removal of mature trees along one of Minnesota’s most picturesque highways are vowing to do whatever it takes to interrupt the logging.

A “Save the Trees Coalition” rally, with approximately 140 people in attendance, was held in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday, Jan. 24 to consider options.

Coalition member Willis Mattison said it’s “distressing” to see Norway pine and spruce trees being cut on Highway 34 along the Lake Country Scenic Byway, which began Monday, Jan. 23.

Members are discussing a range of responses, he said, including civil disobedience, legal action and calling for a face-to-face meeting with Gov. Tim Walz.

“It was resolute that the project was ill conceived, unjustified, goes totally against the will of the community and is doing significant damage,” said Mattison, who has a home along Highway 34.

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Willis Mattison is opposed to the planned road resurfacing project along Highway 34 in the designated Lake Country Scenic Byway area that will remove trees from Snellman to near Osage, Minn.
David Samson/The Forum

The Minnesota Department of Transportation project will resurface a 21-mile stretch of Highway 34 from Becker County Road 29 east of Detroit Lakes, to west of Osage.

In preparation, MnDOT is removing trees approximately 65 feet from the centerline on both sides of the road.

The total cost, originally estimated by MnDOT at $9 million a year ago, was upped to $13 million last September and is now estimated at $15.7 million.

Joeb Oyster, project manager for MnDOT’s District 4, said they’ve met with Mattison and others multiple times and listened to their viewpoints.

“We did make revisions based on their concerns and we feel like we've done the best we can to balance everybody's concerns with roadway, safety, budget and environment,” Oyster said.

Trees are being removed in part for driver safety, he said, adding that a vehicle left that stretch of roadway and hit a tree, killing a person within the last couple of years.

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Mature trees and winding roads are the attraction of Lake Country Scenic Byway along Highway 34.
David Samson/The Forum

The project is also aimed at reducing the amount of chloride used on the road during winter months, especially where trees shade the pavement through the Smoky Hills State Forest.

Removing them from the south side of the road should allow sunlight to hit the pavement, melting snow and ice and reducing chemical use, Oyster said previously.

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Mattison, a professional ecologist who retired as regional director of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, calls that a “nice theory.”

He said anecdotes and data from a European study presented by MnDOT don’t hold up.

“I looked at them and there was nothing there,” Mattison said.

Members of the coalition said they don’t understand why the state is being “stubborn and bullheaded” when the community is not in favor of the tree removal.

“Being responsive to the public in an out-state office is priority number one, and this is so out of character. It’s just puzzling to figure out, how did we get in this predicament?” he wondered.

Mattison still holds out hope to stop the logging planned through the Smoky Hills, a 7-mile stretch from Snellman to Osage.

Time is of the essence, he said, because Highway 34 will lose a few more miles of trees with each passing day as the project wears on.

Oyster said the contractor doing the tree removal must complete the work prior to March 31, so that the road resurfacing part of the project can happen sometime after that.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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