While out enjoying your local state or county managed forest, have you ever stumbled across some strange paint markings on trees and wondered what it was? Perhaps some form of communication among Sasquatch?

While some of us may look like Sasquatch, the paint was more likely sprayed there by your local state or county forester, out in the woods “setting up timber.” But what does it mean to “set up timber,” and why and how do we do it?

Harvesting trees is important for keeping forests healthy from insects and diseases while maintaining wildlife habitat. Removing excess fuels such as downed trees and dense understory also decreases wildfire risk. When we harvest our own timber, we can produce materials we need while meeting strict environmental standards, reduce the risk of introducing invasive species, and support jobs within the state’s fifth largest manufacturing sector.

Money generated from timber harvested from publicly managed lands goes to school districts and local governments through Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Annually, less than 1% of Aitkin County’s land area is harvested and forest growth exceeds harvest 2:1.

Logging on state and county land is accomplished by qualified loggers who bid on and purchase a permit to harvest and sell the timber to paper mills or sawmills. However, before that can happen, foresters need to appraise the timber.  “Setting up,” or appraising timber means that a forester determines the cutting area boundaries and estimates the volume and value of each tree species to be harvested within the boundary.

It can often take three to five years between when the timber is appraised and when it is harvested, so we use a special tree marking paint that lasts a long time.

Red paint indicates a harvest boundary between two different landowners, such as state-managed land next to private land. If the forester is any good, the red paint marks will be in a straight line. Blue paint indicates harvest boundaries within land managed by the same owner. These lines will almost never be straight because we avoid harvesting in sensitive areas like wetlands or old homesteads. Orange paint within a harvest area indicates individual trees to harvest or retain. By thoughtfully and selectively marking individual trees, we can allow the best trees to grow bigger and improve the quality of the timber.  

While each color of paint has universal meaning, each forester’s marks may look a little different. This is part of the “artistic license” of being a forester.

The next time you wander into some painted trees in the woods ... look out for sasquatch! And then consider how this small harvest plays a big part in our local way of life.

Troy Holcomb is a forester with the Minnesota DNR Division of Forestry based out of the Aitkin office.

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