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Superior National Forest Update: August 21

Hi.  I’m Steve Robertsen, education specialist, with this week’s edition of the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the week of August 21st, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.
Where has the summer gone?  Despite the fact that I saw people in the grocery store putting up a Halloween candy display, there is still some time for a camping trip or picnic before fall arrives.  Halloween candy in August, in fact, I’d say is a bit ridiculous.  But not totally ridiculous: Birds are certainly feeling the fall in the air.  On still nights in the Boundary Waters last week, we could hear peeps and chirps in the midnight hours which belong to night migrating flocks of birds.  Some species of birds actually navigate by the stars and recognize bird constellations.  This has been shown using captive birds in a planetarium where the stars could be shifted, and the birds’ movements shifted to match the stars.  So, over the next few weeks, go out star gazing in a nice quiet spot and listen for the late night avian commuter traffic.  It is a lot more relaxing than the traffic on Highway 61.
Speaking of traffic, timber hauling is currently taking place on the 4 Mile Grade, the Wanless, The Grade, Honeymoon Trail, Bally Creek Rd., Caribou Trail, Greenwood Lake Rd. That doesn’t include State Operations so there may be Minnesota DNR operations with some trucks elsewhere in the woods.
Encountering a log truck is one thing, but a lot of campers in the forest have been encountering bears.  Bear activity seems high this year, and we have had many reports of bears, particularly at Trail’s End and McDougal Lake Campgrounds.  Seeing a bear at your campsite can be exciting, but a bit intimidating as well.  Keep in mind that black bears are generally not a very aggressive animal, but they are big and you don’t want your actions to cause the animal to become more aggressive.  The best thing to do is to avoid food based encounters.  Keep your food when not in use locked in the trunk of the car, or concealed and securely locked in the car if you have an SUV with no real trunk.  Bears that have tried human food usually like it, and soon learn to recognize coolers.  They will break windows to get to visible coolers in vehicles. Garbage, to a bear, is a great food source. Treat it like food, and lock it up the same way. Use the dumpsters at campgrounds, and use the bars provided to lock the lids down.  Keeping food away from bears and making it so humans and campgrounds are not seen as food sources is the number one best thing you can do to help yourself and the bears live together.  It is sad, but bears that learn to associate food with humans have a very hard time unlearning that, and will often need to be killed.
Heavy rains over the past week not only have been good for forest growth, but they have put a damper on our fire season.  Before the rain though, we did have one small 40 or so acre fire near Silver Island Lake.  It was a good example of fire caused by natural ignition.  Lightning struck a tree, which then smoldered internally for possibly several weeks until the wind and conditions were right for it to spread into a wildfire.  This is why it is so important to watch your own fire use, even in damp conditions.  Smoldering fires are good at waiting, sometimes much longer than you would think.  Make sure every fire you light is totally out when you leave it.
Have a great weekend, and enjoy the Forest.  Until next week, this has been Steve Robertsen with the Superior National Forest Update.