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Pine cones, pickers in short supply in Minnesota

As cone-picking tradition fades, more people needed to supply DNR nursery.

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White spruce cones at the Minnesota state forest nursery. The Department of Natural Resources needs more people to go out and pick more pine cones this fall. Contributed / Minnesota DNR
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DULUTH -- The severe drought of 2021, a late-spring freeze and fewer people heading into the woods to pick pine cones in recent years all have combined to create a seed shortage for Minnesota’s state forest nursery.

The nursery, part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forestry division, needs hundreds more bushels of pine cones in coming weeks to meet demand for replanting and seed for nurseries.

The biggest need is for Jack pine, red pine and black spruce cones, and the DNR is putting out the word hoping more people will go out to pick cones and earn some cash. Prices paid range from $20-$150 per bushel, depending on the type of cone.

“We rely very heavily on the public to supply seeds and cones to the State Forest Nursery,” said Mike Reinikainen, DNR Forestry silviculture program coordinator.

Gathering cones is a great family outdoor activity, Reinikainen noted. But the tradition appears to be fading from the northwoods.

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“We're concerned that there is a growing need to recruit the next generation of seed and cone pickers. It’s an activity that less and less people are doing, which also has negative impacts on supply,’’ Reinkainen told the News Tribune.

This year’s drought and a late-May hard freeze appear to have “disrupted cone and seed development for a lot of the species we need," he said. "Cones with viable seed were scarcer this year.” And this year’s shortage could have a ripple effect in coming years.

“It’s urgent as bottlenecks in seed supply can impact seedling availability for years to come,’’ Reinkainen said. “Our seed volume purchased this year is well below where it has been in previous years at this time.”

DNR foresters coordinate seeding of about 5,000 acres each year to reforest DNR-managed land. Seeds are also planted at the nursery to grow tree seedlings, which are used in reforestation efforts on public and private land across the state.

A red pine cone, one of several varieties of conifer cones in short supply this year in Minnesota due to weather conditions and a lack of pickers. Contributed / University of Minnesota free

Because black spruce cones can be challenging to reach high on the tree, DNR staff can direct people interested in gathering these cones to timber harvest locations where black spruce tops have been left on site.

Seeds and cones may be collected on your own property, other private property with the landowner's permission or on state forest land.

Before collecting seeds or cones, contact one of the DNR seed drop-off locations for more information, including instructions on how to present cones for purchase. There are drop-off sites at DNR forestry offices across the northern one-third of the state.

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Jack pine and red pine will be accepted through November, provided the cones have not opened. Black spruce cones will be accepted through February. To learn more, visit the DNR’s Seed and Cone Collection website at https://bit.ly/3nxnTjk .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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