Passion for forestry: Dickinson’s newest forester talks about fighting forest fires, working along the coast, and more. – The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — Already in his first month as a new Forester, Blake Johnson brings a different perspective to the town of Dickinson. From working as a forest firefighter on the West Coast to exploring vast forests in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, Johnson brings years of forestry experience.

Johnson started with the town of Dickinson on March 7 and previously worked in forest management in Duluth and northwestern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior.

Prior to moving to Western Edge, Johnson worked for the State of Wisconsin as a senior forester in forest management, which involved large-scale timber sales and management as well as wildfire responsibilities. Although he grew up in Wisconsin, Johnson has had the good fortune to work all over the United States.

“Every time I talk to people, I say I worked from the west coast to the east coast,” Johnson said, adding that he worked as a forester in North Carolina and a forest firefighter in California. “I liked the East Coast…but this western culture, there’s something about the mountains and all that kind of stuff that’s amazing.”

Originally, Johnson decided to study commerce. However, just when Johnson graduated, the Great Recession was in place and jobs were scarce. So he ended up traveling, working as a forest firefighter.

He then returned to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, known for its top forestry program, and graduated in 2013. But he decided to work one more year in the field of firefighting. forest, reaching a level of success that has always been a dream for him. Then in 2014, he landed his first forestry job in North Carolina.

After getting married, Johnson took a job a year later in his home state of Wisconsin. Over the next five years, her schedule turned out to be “very rigorous”, including raising a family.

Blake Johnson is pictured at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2018. Johnson and his crew were returning from Washington, where they were helping with wildfire suppression efforts. During this time, Johnson was employed as a senior forester by the Wisconsin State Department of Natural Resources.

Contributed / Blake Johnson

“When I was in Minnesota and Wisconsin, it was very – I don’t want to use the term lonely – but you’re in vast forests. You work with landowners, but it’s just a different aspect. Here everything is a bit tighter with the work with the owners,” he said.

Finding a more “family” position was well within his reach, and Dickinson, North Dakota, was on Johnson’s radar as he had family connections who moved West during the oil boom.

“I don’t know if I want to use the word destiny, but everything was pushing us to be here and everything fell into place very easily for us and the transition was really nice,” he said.

As a forester, Johnson expressed his passion for trees. However, his position also deals with education and outreach, which may include examining tree health and working with homeowners or landowners.

“Everyone has questions about the health of their trees, the maintenance of their trees, there is a right way and a wrong way to prune. So it’s just about having that awareness and providing education and building relationships with landowners and then taking better care of their property to see different signs if they have diseased trees,” he said. -he declares.

One of the main problems Johnson foresees is Dutch elm disease. North Dakota’s state tree is the American elm, and they are important to Dickinson. Johnson noted that Dutch elm disease, which is caused by an invasive fungal pathogen and causes trees to wilt and die, is a “rather difficult disease to control and maintain.” Education and awareness of the impacts of Dutch elm disease are key in prevention efforts, he added.

In Wisconsin, Johnson dealt with the emerald ash borer – an exotic beetle, native to Asia, which was discovered in southeast Michigan near Detroit in 2002. This invasive species lays its eggs in crevices in the bark of ash trees and does damage when the larvae eat their way. bark, burrowing deep into the trunk to insulate against the cold, according to a New York Times

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published in 2014. Although the emerald ash borer has not been detected in North Dakota, it is expected to reach the state in the coming years, he added.

“And so being aware of that, being proactive in preparing if it happens or having that mindset that he’s probably going to be here hopefully gives us a head start in fighting it or preventing it.” , Johnson said. “So having some experience with it helps prepare me to understand how it’s transmitted (and) how it’s transferred across the state in different areas.”

In an urban setting, the concerns, diseases and risks that a forester has to deal with are different than in a wilderness setting, such as tree assessment. Some concerns could be if the tree is or could be harmful to humans, if the roots are exposed in a yard and a homeowner cuts them with a lawn mower or if a tree has an underground root system that could damage the sidewalk.

“Even like this morning, there was a car accident downtown that hit a tree. So I got a call to go and check on the health and condition of the tree after knowing the individual was fine… I had never really had this issue in my career before on a vehicle hitting a tree and checking the health of the tree,” he said. “So it’s a bit different in that aspect, but it’s fun and it expands your knowledge and broader understanding of what hurts and affects tree species.”

Forestry is changing, Johnson said, explaining that the introduction of new technologies and applications will help with forest management and inventory.

“When you think of Dickinson and the fact that it’s a prairie state, there aren’t a lot of trees. But once you have an inventory and look at what you have, there are plenty of trees. So it’s about understanding that a bit and knowing that there’s a lot of care behind that as well,” he remarked. “Developing more (and) taking initiative is something I want to explore a little more with the program.”

It’s been a year since Johnson, his wife and 3-year-old son fell in love with Dickinson. He hopes to bring a different perspective and fresh energy to the role of city forester.

“…There is always a need for trees. They are along the waterways or in some of these areas you will see native tree species growing…There is always a need for vegetation, shrubs (and) flowers,” he said. note. “As we continue to develop areas, it is good to build and expand. But it’s also good to do that with trees too. So having this awareness (and) this education is very useful and necessary.