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Cowling Arboretum awarded funds to assist with restoration programs

November 30, 2012

This winter Carleton College Cowling Arboretum staff will take the first steps in a new forest and grassland restoration project, funded through the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. A $64,593 grant, administered through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, will help restore 38 acres, about 4% of the Carleton Arboretum. “While 4% seems like a small portion, Arboretum users will notice some big changes, so we wanted to make sure our users were aware of what this project entails,” reports Nancy Braker, Arboretum Director.

The overall goal of the Cowling Arboretum is to restore examples of native plant communities: the forest, oak savanna and prairie that were originally found in the Northfield area. The current project includes 27 acres of future forest and oak savanna in the Lower Arboretum and ten acres of future prairie in the Upper Arboretum.

Project areas in the Lower Arboretum include pine plantations that are declining in health, and previously cut pine areas now choked with brush. The pine plantations to be removed are primarily jack pine, a short-lived species that was planted more than 70 years ago. Some of the pine stands were not thinned in the past and are now crowded and stunted. “Many of these trees are now dead, and are constantly falling over the trail, creating a management hazard for our staff and blocking the way for our runners, walkers and skiers,” Braker explains.

Not all the Arboretum pines will go; other plantations will be retained and thinned in the future to create a more healthy and productive environment. The pines were planted for timber production, and the original intention of the College was to remove them at maturity. The College currently expects to retain some of the pine plantations at the north end of the Arboretum for future lumber use by the Carleton sawmill and for visitor enjoyment.

The Upper Arboretum section of the project includes a former agricultural field now overgrown with brush and short lived trees such as boxelder. 

Overall, the project will include the removal of non-native trees and shrubs as well as native woody species that are inappropriate to the specific location or are impeding restoration efforts. The woody material (cut trees and brush) that is removed will be used for lumber, chipped for landscape mulch or used for energy production. 

Arboretum staff are currently preparing for a contractor to remove the trees this winter. Trees to be left uncut will be marked with spots of blue paint. Once the trees and brush are removed, additional work will take place to prepare the sites for future replanting. 

Funding for this project is provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.

For more information, contact Carleton College Cowling Arboretum Director Nancy Braker at (507) 222-4543 or by email at