By Liz Verley, Staff Writer
In 1988, Bob and Nancy Ferche purchased property which would grow to 2,000 acres in the Hillman area.
The property, when purchased, had been a cattle ranch that had been heavily grazed, often burned, bulldozed and drained. Now 25 years later, it has been transformed into a twice-awarded Minnesota State Tree Farm of the Year.
“It started out as a place where our family could get away and enjoy the area. That is still the main focus. We use the land for snowmobiling, hunting and other family recreation,” said Ferche.
The Ferches have hosted statewide Boy Scout Executive meetings, Boy Scout retreats, (Ferche was involved for over 40 years with the Boy Scouts) a statewide Tree Farmer Field Day, international hunting schools from Norway which included a week-long forest management and bow-hunting seminar. Participants have included persons from Mexico and South Africa.
Since 1941, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS)has certified 24 million acres of private forestland and over 90,000 Family forest owners who are committed to excellence in forest stewardship in 46 states. ATFS has established standards and guidelines for property owners to meet to become a certified tree farm. Under these, private forest owners develop a management plan based on strict environmental standards and pass an inspection by an ATFS volunteer forester every five years.
Bob Perleberg, who serves as a volunteer forester for ATFS certification, has also been a consultant forester for the Ferche project since the beginning.
“Bob is one of the greatest foresters anywhere. He knows his business and has been a great asset for us,” Ferche said.
In nominating the Ferches for the Tree Farmer of the Year Award, Perleberg said, “As inspecting foresters, I think we have all seen landowners purchase property and jump into forest and wildlife management with a passion and drive that eventually has us nominating them for an award. I think we have also all seen that same landowner eventually ‘burn out’ on management. This can be due to finance, a new obsession or family dynamics. This has not, and will not, happen on the Ferche Family Tree Farm.”
He said the accomplishments just “keep piling up.”
“They are accomplished without accolades, award or notoriety. They are completed because they are necessary for the health and well-being of the tree farm,” he said.
Perleberg noted that a good example of the Ferches’ self-motivation and environmental awareness is demonstrated in the changes made to the property since its purchase in 1988.
“The previous owner, in an effort to increase the open ground component of the pasture, started dozing the woodlands to create open pasture. Long straight openings were created by pushing trees, rocks and topsoil into windrows and leaving them to rot,” said Perleberg.
“As Ferche and his family started reclaiming these open areas by planting seedlings or food plots, they observed that seedling growth in these areas appeared stunted and slow. They realized the berms created by the dozing was affecting water runoff keeping the open areas saturated and that necessary soil nutrients were still in the berms,” he said.
This started an intensive project of leveling and reclaiming which lasted 20 years and leveled an astonishing 30 miles of berms to improve runoff and soil quality.
“This project required 20 years, four new dozers and 7,000 dozer hours. Not quite the Egyptian pyramids but close,” said Perleberg.
“Over 5,000 hours of agricultural tractor time has also been compiled working food plots, mowing firebreaks and preparing landings. Over four weeks of backhoe work has been committed to creating open water wetlands, improving runoff and controlling beaver damage,” said Perleberg. “This work was all done by family members. Over 12,000 hours of heavy equipment time has been committed to the tree farm. That is landowner commitment.”
Throughout the years, the Ferches have planted over 200,000 trees and shrubs. They have placed over 140,000 bud caps. (A bud cap is simply a piece of paper wrapped and stapled around the terminal leader and bud of the tree. This protects the terminal bud from deer, yet allows the tree to grow up through the paper during the next growing season). They have created open water ponds and harvested approximately 12,000 cord of Aspen.
Ferche said, “Aspen is a fast-growing tree and reseeds itself. It is important to harvest the tree at the right time. You must harvest to manage correctly. Timber is very important. We need to take care of it properly. We have to look to the future. We need to take care of the environment for our children and grandchildren.
Ferche grew up on a dairy farm, served in the military and married his wife Nancy, in 1970. They have four children who are active participants in the tree farm management.
Ferche’s first job was in the timber industry at the paper mill in Sartell.
In 1958, he purchased a sawmill and Ferche Millwork was created. The business went on to become the largest producer of hardwood trim in the United States.
The Ferches have been tied to the timber industry for over 55 years and that tie is being passed on to their children who own separate parcels of woodland and actively manage these acreages independently.
“The commitment the Ferche family has shown to the improvement of this property over the last 25 years is nothing short of incredible,” Perleberg said.
“This is forest management in the truest, most basic form: harvesting, planting, protecting and continuously improving. Never looking back and thinking the project is complete or the next project is too difficult. Never looking for recognition or accolades, just doing the job tree farmers are known for, utilizing the best sources of information available to them and implementing management decisions that require many weeks, years, or decades of work to complete,” he said.
The ambition and drive to improve their tree farm seems endless in the Ferche family, said Perleberg. “Since I started working with them in the late 80s, I have been motivated and inspired by the enthusiasm and work ethic shown by this family. The effort they put into the tree farm is an extension of their everyday lifestyle. Not only do they strive mightily to improve this piece of property but they also strive to improve their community and state. The Ferche Family does this with hard work and a giving attitude. A better example of the tree farmer’s ethic will not be found,” he said.