On a parcel of land known as the Maxwell property, a dozen Northland students follow Jon Martin, associate professor of forestry, down a narrow footpath near the winding banks of the White River.
These students are in the Sustainable Forest Management May Term course and are using the Maxwell property, located ten miles south of campus, as a hands-on field laboratory. These 140 acres were donated to Northland College in 1983 by the family of Mabel Cora Maxwell, to commemorate her life and her generosity towards the Northland community.
As Martin and students travel deeper into the forest, young stands of alder and aspen give way to a thick understory of balsam fir in the shade of a mature pine-dominated canopy, and their attention is drawn upward to a massive white pine, covered in lichen and towering over the rolling river.
Martin has spent the past three years conducting canopy research in the top of this tree. With the use of motion sensitive cameras, students have worked alongside Martin and Professor of Natural Resources Erik Olson. pictured here, to identify a multitude of mammals, insects, frogs, fungi, and lichen living in the canopy, including the highest ever recorded sighting of the gray tree frog in 2017.
“Now you understand my obsession with these old white pines,” Martin said.
What he didn’t know is that this would be one of his last, long looks.
One month later, the white pine fell during the Father’s Day weekend rainstorm. At 105-feet tall and at least 116 years old, it was just a few years shy of being considered old growth by regional management standards.
Even in death, however, Martin said the white pine continues to provide instruction in ecosystems.
“A tree that once provided habitat for birds, tree frogs, stoneflies, and many other land-dwelling organisms now functions as an important habitat for aquatic life,” Martin said.