During the three decades since they bought their densely wooded property hugging the Lake Superior shoreline, Dale and Cathy Paulson have worked tirelessly to ensure that when they leave it, it’ll be better than they found it.
Improvements have included planting seedlings, managing the land to attract wildlife such as birds and teaming up with conservation groups to improve a nearby trout stream.
Next month, the Bayfield County couple will get the chance to show it all off when they host the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association’s annual field day, set for Saturday, Aug. 11.
“It will be a fun day,” Dale said.
The Paulsons earned the distinction of hosting the field day by virtue of being named the 2017 Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year last fall by the Wisconsin Tree Farm Committee.
This will be the farthest north the event has traveled, according to event coordinator Valerie Damstra, who works with UW-Extension as a natural resources educator based at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland. “It’s almost as far north as you can go.”
Damstra said they expect about 100 people to attend and hope to attract landowners from throughout Wisconsin, with a special focus on local property owners in Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron counties and areas just to the south.
“We want to build that community and network,” she said.
Seeing the forest for the trees
The Paulsons own about 140 acres near Herbster, along with a small acreage in southern Polk County, where Dale grew up on a farm. Their 131-acre tree farm consists of red pine, oak with some mixed hardwoods and aspen/bird and a 2-acre parcel of grass.
“This property is not a typical tree farm,” Damstra said. “When most people think of a tree farm, they think rows of trees and orderly; this is not quite like that.
“Dale has really taken to heart the idea of the forest needs to have different age classes and a healthy diversity of forest species,” she said.
The Paulsons, who strive as much as possible to live off the land, drew up their original forest management plan in 1988 and made updates in 2016.
Concerned about water quality, Dale has collaborated with conservation groups to improve the Cranberry River, a trout stream bordering his property that also serves as a breeding ground for salmon from Lake Superior.
A diversity of tree ages on the property makes it ideal habitat for wildlife. While he enjoys hunting deer, grouse and turkeys, Dale also opens his land to public recreation and maintains a network of trails.
Through the years, the Paulsons have harvested more than 132,600 board feet of sawlogs and more than 2,300 cords of pulpwood. Dale has done his own logging and also worked part time at Isaksson’s Sawmill.
A lifelong woodworker, Dale makes the most of his time in the woods, scouring the forest floor for wood he might be able to transform into a one-of-a-kind bowl, vase or table in his Sawdust Savage woodworking studio. Some of his favorite woods with which to work include cherry and white pine. The more knots, scars, wormholes and other imperfections, the better.
“You can’t hide defects, so I exaggerate them,” he said. “It’s not worth my time if there’s no character,” he told The Country Today during an interview in 2011.
“I’m always scratching my head and looking at something,” he said. “I think, ‘That could be something,’ and I get off the skidder, cut it off and bring it home.”
The Paulsons also raise chickens and have an extensive fruit and vegetable garden, harvest maple syrup and sell honey from beehives on their property.
Dale doesn’t keep his natural knowledge to himself; he has been a strong advocate for sound forestry practices within the local community and among local loggers. He has encouraged his son in forest land management and has begun to acquire parcels in the area, enrolling them in the Wisconsin Managed Forest Law Program.
Zak Neitzel, forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Brule, who nominated the Paulsons for the state Tree Farm award, said he often gets phone calls from area landowners seeking forestry advice after a conversation with Dale.
Looking beyond lumber
WWOA field day activities will include a walking tour of the Paulson property. The group will meet at the Bell Town Hall and be bused to the Paulson property. There, they will see a variety of stands — one of Dale’s most recent cuts, an area cut 3 years ago, a third area cut 20 years ago and a mature forest near the trout stream, Damstra said.
“We want to show that this is what this can look like as things age,” she said. “It allows for different species to thrive.”
Dale said he’ll also have his woodcraft studio open to show what can be done with a woodlot “beyond timber and selling lumber.”
Booths at the town hall will share information about available forestry and conservation programs, and speakers will address topics related to forestry and wildlife management. There also will be a Q&A session with the Paulsons.
A silent auction will benefit the Tree Farm program, and lunch will be provided.
Those planning to attend are advised to make lodging arrangements soon, as August is a peak tourist month in northern Wisconsin.
“It’s a great time to be up here, with lots to see,” Damstra said.
The Paulsons’ woodshop also will be among seven stops on the Herbster Studio Art Tour, set for Aug. 18-19. For more information, visit herbsterstudioarttour.com.
If you go
What: Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association Field Day.
When: Saturday, Aug. 11, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Dale and Cathy Paulson property, 81855 Lenawee Road, Herbster. Event will begin and end at Bell Town Hall, 2620 Ash St., Cornucopia, with a field tour from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.