Natural Resource Management


The landowner partners of Boulder Lake Management Area (BLMA), Minnesota Power, St. Louis County Land Department, and the MDNR intend the BLMA to provide a "real world" example of full-scale, integrated natural resource management meeting a wide diversity of objectives. In general, each partner continues to manage their lands within the BLMA under the same principles as used on their respective land ownerships, elsewhere in the region.

Most special management areas or environmental centers across the region usually have natural resource activities which are conducted on smaller-scale parcels, which is seldom typical of full-scale land management. This is not the case at Boulder. The management efforts at the BLMA are actual natural resource management policy (and techniques)

performed throughout the region. This "real world" example of natural resource management is displayed to the general public on a realistic scale through interpretive trails, exhibits, and educational programs.

Natural Resource Protection - Careful planning and management protects the natural resources and environmentally sensitive areas of the BLMA from adverse effects, from such things as increased public recreation use. To achieve this objective, each partner will continue to manage their lands in the area under existing comprehensive management plans.

Management Coordination - In the interest of providing useful interpretation to the public, the partners in the BLMA have agreed to coordinate their individual natural resource management efforts within the area.

The partners have agreed to keep the others informed of all management plans and activities within the area. Regular meetings will be scheduled to discuss management of the area, and to explore the possibilities for coordination of activities.

The partners have agreed to share some management costs such as those for upgrading the Buzz Ryan Road, and those incurred for the development of some interpretive signs.

By synthesizing a philosophy for the area, common goals are reached more easily; however, some fine-tuning and coordination of management plans and objectives occurs as plans are implemented and as conditions change.

Forest Management
Forest Management

Forestry Introduction

The forests of the BLMA are managed by the professional forestry staffs of Minnesota Power, St. Louis County Land Department (County), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). These forests support multiple uses, including the production of forest and gravel products, habitat for wildlife, protection of the watershed, and various recreational opportunities.

Taking the Message to the Public

The basic focus of forest management in the BLMA is to ensure the sustainability of the forest ecosystem through the continued use of sound silvicultural practices. The BLMA interpretive trails and educational programs (as well as this website) afford the public an opportunity to learn how forest management provides not only timber, but other public benefits.

Full-Scale Management

In keeping with the "real world" philosophy of management each cooperator will continue, for the most part, with existing forest management plans for their lands. The area will not become a unique forest management unit onto itself. For example: Forest acreage within the area will not be regulated to provide a sustained even-flow yield of timber in the classic sense of the term. Harvest schedules for the area lands will continue to be based on forest management plans that include much larger acreages. There will, however, be cooperation among the three landowners to provide a continuity of management which will facilitate useful interpretation of forest management practices to the public.

The Timber Harvest Process

By following comprehensive forest management plans and policies, and before a stand of trees is harvested, forest managers determine a specific forest's make-up, age, health, market value and demand, feasibility, and environmental and public value. The stand of trees to be considered for harvest is inventoried for these criteria, surveyed (insect swatting time) and marked in the field. Bids are taken from local loggers and paper companies. And the timber sale is awarded to the high bidder. Timber sale contracts vary, but tend to include a time-frame for the logger to complete the harvest and conditions to ensure environmental methods are employed. Foresters will follow-up on the sale to ensure compliance with the contract and discuss finer points of the timber harvest, including management goals of the stand.

Specific Forest Management within the BLMA

Specific forest management activities occur within the BLMA. These activities are typical of forest management in the region.

Clear Cutting
clear cutting

Clear cutting to produce aspen tree regeneration is performed throughout the BLMA. Forest managers will choose to clear cut an area based on the age and health of a particular forest, the likelihood of aspen to regenerate, soil conditions, and the current economics and demand of aspen products.

  • Past clear-cut operations can be seen along the Bear Paw/Blue Ox Trails (completed in 1992); the most westerly end of the Buzz Ryan Road is a vast area of clear cut harvesting (completed about 1990); all along the north shore of the reservoir (not easily seen from the water, since the shoreline is an uncut buffer zone) is another vast area of clear cutting (harvesting between 1989 and 1993), a cut along the Blue Ox Trail in 2003 and a clear cut on the Ridge Runner Trail in 2005.

Selective harvest
pine thinning

Selective harvest can occur either as thinning of trees from a pine stand, for example, or through clear-cut design to enhance certain species or wildlife habitat.

  • Thinning of trees occurs on County and MP land along the north side of the Boulder Dam Road (most recently performed in 1992) and along the first portion of the state land on the Buzz Ryan Road in 2007.
  • The County's Ruffed Grouse Management Area on the north side of the BLMA (accessed from the Three Lakes Road) is an excellent example of selective harvest designed for wildlife enhancements with harvests in 1989, 1998, 2009 and a harvest scheduled in 2018.

Forest managers also employ stewardship ethics which ensure management policies identify areas which possess other environmental or public values measured against the demand for forest products. This type of stewardship can lead to establishing large sections to be left uncut for preservation of wildlife habitat, aesthetics, and public recreation. Forest stewardship can therefore preserve and enhance qualities of the forest.

  • The entire shoreline of Boulder Lake Reservoir has been left uncut to preserve its wilderness-like qualities.

Forest Fire Management

The MDNR actively prepares for and measures the forest fire risk in the BLMA and surrounding region. The BLMA falls within an area known to be at risk to forest and wildfire danger due to a high level of forest fire fuels (downed, dead or diseased trees and underbrush) and its relatively close proximity to a high population of homes and cabins (on Island Lake Reservoir, in particular).


Wildlife Management

wildlife nest boxLands and wetlands within the BLMA are managed for multiple use benefits. Wildlife enhancements efforts are established within timber sales for ruffed grouse, and development of recreational facilities consider the environmental sensitivity prior to and during construction phases. Specific wildlife enhancement projects include the establishment of various types of wildlife nest boxes along the shore of the reservoir.

The BLMA is also considered a part of a resident timber wolf pack home range. In addition, bald eagles consistently nest within the area. Although both species have been delisted from Federal Endangered Species status, they remain to be managed for preservation at the BLMA.


Fisheries Management

Fisheries management is the responsibility of the MDNR. Here is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website link of fisheries information for Boulder Lake Reservoir

  MP has assisted the MDNR with several fishery studies related to the company's federal hydroelectric license requirements on Boulder Lake Reservoir.

Boulder Lake Reservoir is classified as moderately soft, dark colored and slightly eutrophic (nutrient rich) with moderate to good fertility.

A fish population assessment of the reservoir was performed in 1988 to collect fishery data for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing of MP's St. Louis River Hydroelectric Project.

In general, the population assessment showed a healthy diverse population of gamefish including walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, sunfish and rock bass. White suckers are present in the reservoir as are black bullheads in large enough numbers to represent a nuisance population.

The current fish consumption advisory for the reservoir is:




















Recreation Management

The BLMA partners are intent on managing the area in a manner which does not adversely impact the present natural character of the reservoir shoreline nor change present resource management objectives due purely to increased demand for public recreation.

In addition, while the BLMA is decidedly not a wilderness area, it is recognized that the outdoor experiences found in this "working forest" environment can be very similar to those found in a true wilderness.

Therefore, the BLMA partners will attempt to provide a proper level of recreation facilities and opportunities needed in the area, while at the same time, protect the area's aesthetic and environmentally sensitive areas, and preserve the natural resource management objectives.

Specifically, the area between the south shore of the reservoir and the Boulder Dam Road will be more intensively used and more accommodating toward recreation activities. As you proceed north from this area, around the reservoir (in either direction), the recreation facilities take on a more primitive quality, and designated recreation use is not openly encouraged to protect the environmentally and aesthetically sensitive areas of the BLMA.


Cultural Resource Management

As a result of Minnesota Power's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license to operate Boulder Lake Reservoir, the company was required to perform an archaeological survey of the shore lands around the reservoir. Federal and state laws dictate procedures for identifying and protecting sites that are considered to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Preservation. If you come across locations or materials which you suspect are of a historic or prehistoric nature, contact MP immediately at (218)723-3977.

In general, the reservoir lakes area, including Boulder Lake Reservoir, is rich in cultural resource history and prehistory. Cultural materials dating back from the Woodland Period to the vestiges of the last glacial age have been identified, as well as sites and materials of historic significance, such as those found at abandoned logging camps.


Hydroelectric Power Generation


Boulder Lake Reservoir is a water storage reservoir, operated under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) St. Louis River Hydroelectric License Project #2360. The water in the reservoir is used in the generation of hydroelectricity at Minnesota Power facilities, about 50 miles downstream on the St. Louis River. No generation of power occurs at the Boulder Lake Reservoir Dam.

Generally, the operation of the reservoir amounts to closing the dam around April 1, and allowing it to fill by June 1. A minimum of water is discharged throughout the summer to maintain aquatic ecology in Boulder Creek (a.k.a. Otter River), downstream of the dam. Specific water flow discharges from the dam are required by the FERC throughout the year. The water from Boulder Lake Reservoir flows into Island Lake Reservoir, down the Cloquet River and eventually in the St. Louis River.

The operation of the dam fills the reservoir during the summer months. The FERC required water releases slowly lower the water level during the winter months. This type of operation allows for summer recreation on the reservoir, such as boating and fishing, and has little effect on winter public recreation activities, such as snowmobiling, ice fishing and skiing.


Increasing Public Awareness and Understanding

Environmental education is a part of the Boulder Lake Management Area (BLMA). Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center (ELC) located on the south shore of the Boulder Lake Reservoir strives to increase awareness and understanding of all aspects of sustainable natural resource management.