Clair & Nita Fetzer, Bemidji MN

Like so many MFA members, it was childhood experiences that cultivated the ground for future career choices, passions and hobbies for Clair Fetzer. “I grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania and if I worked hard during the week, my dad let me go camping some weekends. I loved being in the woods, so after military service in Germany from ’65 to ’68, I used the GI Bill to get a degree in Forestry from Penn State and returned later to get my Master’s in Silviculture.” Fetzer was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, working 30 years in the Cass Lake, Red Lake and Fond du Lac areas as Reservation Forester, overseeing timber sales, forest development, inventory, protection and other duties. In 1989, he and wife, Nita, purchased 161 acres 12 miles east of Bemidji—more than enough land to provide years of work, enjoyment and recreation.

“I wrote up the first management plan in ’89. Timber had been harvested in the 60s and replanted in red pine, so when we became owners 22 years later, our first priority was the 85-acre red pine plantation.” Fetzer focused on thinning aspen and other species that were severely suppressing the pine. Meticulous records from the time indicate that 922 trees per acre (mostly aspen and birch) were cut during the red pine release, spending 21 hours/acre at a cost of $147/acre. Pruning the red pines was also a part of the plan, with 18 hours/acre amounting to $129/acre. “The boys were pretty young then, and I would tie ribbons on the trees that I wanted them to limb up. They would prune up to the ribbon and get 50 cents for every one they brought back.”

Years of active management have paid off with a beautiful red pine forest

In 2014, Fetzer hired consulting forester Chris Brokl to supervise a large timber sale on 76 acres. “I had been out of forestry for a while. Chris had the experience, and he knew the loggers in the area better than I did.
I spelled out what I wanted and I knew he would do whatever needed to be done on my behalf,” said Fetzer. “I wasn’t looking to make top dollar. It was a balance between harvesting timber and the aesthetics we’re trying to achieve on the land. This is a family forest, and that plays into the management decisions I make.” The sale produced 1,860 cords of timber, about half of them mature aspen harvested from the pine stand, and half from selectively harvesting pines to thin the stand. Other harvests over the years have included around 300 cords of pine, firewood, aspen and salvage wood. 

Retirement hasn’t only found Fetzer in the woods. In 2004, he and Nita began building the house of their dreams on a 4-acre site just east of Bemidji, a Swiss chalet-style home that was inspired by their trip to Europe, and by a cabin of this type that Fetzer and his brother built long ago in Pennsylvania. While not all of the timber comes from his land, some does, as Fetzer uses his own tractor, skidder, circle sawmill and one-sided planer to work on the home. “I hired out the cement, electrical, and plumbing work. Most of other work I could do myself, from the floor joists to the paneling to the rafters.”

When asked what the future holds for his woodlands, Fetzer is quick to mention family. “Nita and I hope that we can pass the land on to our children, but taxes are a concern. My compliments to MFA, and in particular Bruce ZumBahlin, for the work they do for the private woodland owner. SFIA is an important program for me, and I know MFA works to keep it in place.”