Roger & Linda Howard

Says a professional forester, “Roger Howard is the best private woodland manager I know. He has an outstanding woodland because he is constantly working on his woods.”

Roger and his wife Linda live on their land in Aitkin County. The main place has 560 acres, 160 acres of which is crop land and pasture, leaving 400 acres of woods and wetland. In addition, the Howards have 120 wooded acres nearby and Roger and 15 partners own 640 acres of hunting land, also in Aitkin County.

Roger knows his woods. He graduated from the U of M with a degree in Forestry and spent 33 years of his working career as the land commissioner in Aitkin County. This is an appointed position responsible for managing the county’s Land Department. “The county owns 225,000 acres of land which amounts to 19% of the land in the county. Most of the land is wooded and was acquired through tax forfeiture in the 1930s and 40s. Many of the counties in the northern part of the state acquired land in this manner. Some of them sold it off while others, like Aitkin, has kept it and managed it. The Land Department does everything for county land that the DNR does for state land except we don’t enforce hunting regulations.”

The Howard’s home land has lots of oak and ash, some aspen, a few balsam but very few other conifers.

Now, in retirement, Roger’s work day starts about 7:30 a.m. as he heads outdoors. “I usually work until about 9:30, com in for breakfast and then go back out until dark. Linda seems happy that I’m out of her way for most of the day.”

Roger works steadily at timber stand improvement by removing lower quality trees. “Some years I take out 100 cords and some years it’s only 50 cords. I’m a fair weather logger because I don’t work outdoors when it is really cold or when the snow it too deep. Days like those are spent working in the wood shop.”

All of his logging is done with a chainsaw, a 1967 Ford 4000 tractor and a Farmi 501 winch. “When I bought the Farmi 20 years ago they had two sizes. I bought the larger size and am glad I did because it can handle just about anything in my woods.”

Roger hauls the logs he cuts to one of several small landings where he sorts and stacks the wood. Some is saved to be sawn by a contractor whom Roger brings in every couple of years. When he gets enough pulp wood stacked up he calls a trucker who has a contract with Sappi in Cloquet. The trucker gets a fee for hauling and a percentage of the payment with Roger getting the rest. Whatever wood Roger can’t sell to the mill he cuts for firewood. He uses 16 cords a year in his Heatmaster furnace, which is enough to heat the house and the garage-woodshop, and sells the rest.

The Howards have two daughters and six grandchildren. All of the land is in a trust to avoid probate. Roger is the trustee. All of the forest land is enrolled in the SFIA. “That payment last year was pretty nice,” Roger said. (Last year SFIA enrollees received over $15 per acre. This year, the payment is down to $7 but still nice. We are very fortunate the SFIA program survived in light of all the cuts made by the legislature last year.)

Roger seems to like trying new ideas in his woodland. Right now, he is experimenting with spalting, which is any form of wood coloration caused by fungi. The unique coloration and patterns of spalted wood are sought after by woodworkers. Roger has some 18” sugar maple logs set up in a shaded area out in the woods. He also has individual logs stored inside plastic bags in his woodshop. He’s trying various types of moisture inside the bags to promote fungus growth including plain water, Diet Coke and beer!

Roger grows and manages balsam fir for Christmas trees which he gives to friends and relatives. And relatives they have plenty …. Roger and Linda each have about 70 cousins, with most living in the area!

In the spring, Roger taps one maple tree for each grandchild. They have a contest to see which tree produces the most sap. From the sap Roger make a couple quarts of syrup.

“Have you ever tried producing Shiitake mushrooms?”, Roger was asked. “You bet!”, Roger said. He has them in three locations in is woods, experimenting to see which location is best. While many people like ironwood for mushrooms, Roger has found that red oak works better for him. By soaking a log for just the right amount of time, he found he can force the mushrooms to flush. Roger has an aluminum tag with a number attached to each log so he knows which were soaked and when.

Whenever Roger cuts a tree with a burl, he cuts out and saves the burl. He has some recently cut ones stored out in the woods. Others have been sawn into slabs and are drying in a barn. “I’m not sure what I’ll do with all these burls but I might come up with something someday,” Roger says.

Oh, and to fill any spare time, Roger has 30 head of beef cattle. “I used to have 60 head but that was too much work.