Chippewa National Forest, Blackduck Ranger District, Beltrami and Itasca Counties, Minnesota

About the Chippewa National Forest

The Chippewa National Forest covers 1.6 million acres in northcentral Minnesota. More than 1,300 lakes, 923 miles of rivers and streams, and 400,000 acres of wetlands diversify the landscape. Common tree species are aspen, birch, maple, basswood, ash, pine, spruce, fir, cedar, and tamarack. About 75 percent of the Forest is within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

A wide range of northern wildlife lives on the Chippewa, from small mammals to top predators including black bears and gray wolves. Waterfowl, wading birds, raptors, and songbirds abound. An estimated 150 bald eagle pairs nest on the Forest, one of the highest breeding densities in the lower 48 states.

Logging occurs regularly on the Chippewa, and many forest stands are heavy to aspen. As logged tracts come back in dense young forest, they offer important habitat to woodcock, ruffed grouse, golden-winged warblers, and many other birds and mammals.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

On the Chippewa National Forest, excellent woodcock habitat combines stands of speckled alder and young aspen, and forest openings near rivers, streams, and wetlands.


These photos were all taken from the same point. From left to right: Overmature alder stand; area after shearing; and regrowth during the first growing season following shearing.

In 2008, managers in the Blackduck Ranger District launched a project to improve woodcock habitat. Workers used a hydro-ax machine to shear strips on approximately 20 acres of mature alder and willow in several stands in the Webster and Carter Lake areas. The shearing took place in winter to minimize damage to the environment and at a time when energy reserves were stored in the shrubs’ root systems. Shearing removed old, dying stems. In spring, the alders’ roots sent up a dense, vigorous growth of new stems.

The sheared alder will become preferred habitat for woodcock within five years and will remain as good habitat for around 20 years, at which time it will be ready for shearing again.

In 2009, managers expanded the alder management program, concentrating on the drier alder/aspen transition zone, which woodcock prefer for daytime feeding, brood-rearing, and nesting. In the Kitchi Creek area, a contractor sheared off 34 acres of alder during winter 2010.

These sites have come back in a prolific regrowth of alder, along with elderberry, a shrub that produces abundant berries that young-forest and interior-forest birds eat in late summer as they build up body fat to sustain them during the southward migration or get them through the long northern winter.


Managers sited alder shearing operations near existing singing-ground and roosting habitat.

Another 100 acres of overmature alder have been identified for treatment in the near future. Managers sited the cuts near existing singing-ground and roosting habitat, including old hayfields now being maintained as wildlife openings. In the same area, other fields are being taken out of agriculture and allowed to revert to young forest. Managers are also letting shrubs creep out into the margins of fields to provide an edge or transition zone favored by many wild creatures.

Many acres of excellent woodcock habitat exist on the Blackduck District in recently logged aspen stands. From 1990 to 2010, a total of 18,276 acres of aspen were cut in the District. From 2009 to 2010, about 900 acres of aspen were harvested.

This map shows recent alder shearing locations and aspen harvests on the Blackduck Ranger District.


Two woodcock singing ground survey routes are being run on the Chippewa National Forest to monitor woodcock population response to habitat management efforts.

From 2006 through 2009, wildlife scientists Henry Streby and David Andersen, of the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, used mist nets to capture songbirds in eight regrowing clearcuts on the Chippewa National Forest. They also attached radiotransmitters to fledgling ovenbirds and monitored them using telemetry.

The researchers found that in some species, young birds shift from older areas of the forest into younger forest patches after they leave the nest: Species associated with nesting in mature forest habitats accounted for 41 percent of the nearly 5,000 captures made on the clearcuts. The research demonstrates how young forest can benefit wild animals that aren’t usually associated with early successional habitat.

Streby and Andersen also collected blood, feather, and claw samples from 73 golden-winged warblers for the Golden-Winged Warbler Atlas Project.

Other Factors

Near the Blackduck Ranger District are many acres of county and state forest land where active commercial timber harvesting continually creates new young-forest habitat.

Funding and Partners

U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Ruffed Grouse Society, Wildlife Management Institute

How to Visit

The Blackduck Ranger District is east of Bemidji. Visitors can reach woodcock management areas via county and Forest Service roads and trails off Beltrami County Road 39 between the town of Blackduck and the village of Pennington. For more information on specific sites or habitat management efforts, or to arrange a visit, contact Blackduck Ranger District biologist Cory Mlodik at 218-835-3119 or

For more information on the Chippewa National Forest, contact the Forest Supervisor’s office at 200 Ash Avenue NW, Cass Lake MN 56633, phone 218-335-8600.