Into The Woods | Q4 2023

It’s been an exciting and productive year here at the Rajala Woods Foundation (RWF). The RFW team made significant progress advancing our mission at the Moose Creek and Hodnik Family Forest properties, while also successfully completing a large mineland reclamation project.

We have more projects in the works for 2024, including the development of detailed forest management plans for RWF lands, pursuing grant opportunities, and furthering our partnership with other organizations. We’re also continuing to explore climate adaptive forestry for our northern forests.

I’m thrilled with the incredible strides our team has made—and will continue to make—to restore long-lived tree species in their native habitats. The Rajala Woods Foundation hopes you have a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!

-Blake Francis, Executive Director


Many of the long-lived tree species that historically dominated Minnesota’s northern woods have been declining over the past century, often with short-rotation trees growing in their place. At the RWF, we’re passionate about using innovative forestry practices that we’re confident will improve the ecological diversity of our native forests to provide long-lasting benefits.


The bulk of our 2023 efforts took place at RWF’s Moose Creek Project, consisting of 1,200 acres of forest land in eastern Lake County, MN.

Amidst planting white pine seedlings and clearing brush to give those seedlings space to grow, we’ve seen very little evidence of the deer browsing that plagues seedling growth at many planting sites. This has greatly benefitted our white pine restoration activities, and it also means the Moose Creek Project is a great location to re-establish northern white cedar, a native, long-lived species which can live up to 400 years – or even longer!

Over the last century, it has proven difficult to regenerate white cedar, largely because deer predation hinders regrowth. However, through our on-the-ground efforts, we’ve discovered natural cedar regeneration at Moose Creek is occurring at a scale we haven’t witnessed elsewhere. The heavy snow in the area appears to keep the deer population in check, creating a unique opportunity for RWF to help re-establish significant stands of cedar.

“Deer like to browse on white pines, but they love to eat young cedar.  It seems the Moose Creek Project (MCP) is located in a ‘deer desert,’ which could be extremely helpful for our initiatives. We should seize on this opportunity, and determine what additional projects could help accelerate cedar regrowth at MCP.”

-Kurt Anderson, Board Chair

Because we want to nurture both our white pine plantings and the naturally seeded white cedar, we’re hoping to spend 2024 working with partners and exploring grants that will help us expand the percentage of white cedar on the property and support the area’s natural biodiversity.

White pine seedling
White cedar seedling


The Hodnik Family Forest (HFF) is a 1,200 acre RWF-owned parcel near Hoyt Lakes, which was donated as a tribute to former ALLETE CEO Al Hodnik and his family. HFF is an ideal site for the propagation of red (Norway), white pine, and potentially other long-lived tree species.

RWF is currently working on a long-range forest management plan to guide our efforts to bring back the long-lived species, with plenty of opportunities to manage the property in a way that upholds our values.

As we gather inventory information, determine the age of each stand, and determine which species are present on the property, we anticipate active management beginning in 2024.


The Rajala Woods Foundation is funded by private and public donations and grants. We welcome your donations, financial contribution, volunteerism, and other support.

Hodnik Family Forest

ALLETE donated 1,200 acres near Hoyt Lakes to RWF as a tribute to former ALLETE CEO Al Hodnik and his family. This land, named the Hodnik Family Forest, was officially dedicated in June by ALLETE representatives along with public agencies and nonprofit organizations.

As part of its objective to restore the Hodnik Family Forest—which was once logged, but has just the right kind of soil for white and red pine—RWF has begun employing strategies similar to those of the Moose Creek project.

The time is just right for this kind of project, and we’re incredibly excited to work on restoring the land to be more similar to its natural, historical state.

Moose Creek

With a grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, RWF is currently working to restore 1,200 acres of forest land in eastern Lake County, MN—an area that has been growing aspen and balsam after being logged approximately 20 years ago. As part of this initiative, RWF hired a contractor last fall to thin out areas of young aspen to allow for more sunlight.

The result: pine species that will be able to grow more quickly with a 20-30 year head start (as opposed to the 40 years you would typically expect to wait for regrowth after logging).

This spring, the thinned-out areas were planted with red and white pine. These areas will be revisited in the fall to cut back new growth and further allow the pine to thrive.

The remainder of the project will be completed in 2024, with the potential to pursue additional funding for continued work.

Mineland Reclamation Project

As part of an Iron Range mining site’s reclamation strategy, a team of 12 Mustang Forestry planters (+ two supervisors), a handful of mine representatives and RWF’s own Blake Francis worked together to plant 95,000 red pine seedlings.

The result: 1,000 trees per acre—twice as dense as what you would typically expect to find in nature.

This project will explore the success of high-density red pine planting on a reclaimed site, with continued monitoring to assess whether the project’s methods should be applied to future sites.

We’re also helping the mine evaluate the possibility of earning carbon credits for this work, upholding its commitment to sustainable operations and reclamation.


Over the past century, the white, red and other long-lived pine species that once dominated the northern forests have been rapidly deteriorating, often replaced by short-rotation trees like aspen and balsam fir. But with the right modern forestry practices, we’re confident that we can restore our unique native forests in the long run.

Let’s take a look at some of the milestones we’ve accomplished as of late (while also keeping in mind that we still have a long way to go—which is exactly why we need your continued support


Welcome to INTO THE WOODS, the official e-newsletter of the Rajala Woods Foundation!

At the Rajala Woods Foundation, we are dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and sustainability of our precious natural resources. Nestled deep within the enchanting and awe-inspiring woodland landscapes, our foundation seeks to connect individuals and communities with the wonders and benefits of nature.

INTO THE WOODS will serve as your guide to understanding the importance and beauty of forests, as well as the work we do to support their conservation and growth. Through this quarterly e-newsletter, we will share captivating stories, informative articles, and exciting updates about our initiatives.

One of the milestones we’re particularly excited about is welcoming Blake Francis as our new Executive Director. Blake retired from Minnesota Power, where he worked with a passion for forestry and the environment for 30 years. We are delighted to have Blake on our team, as his extensive knowledge of our organization, the lands we possess, and the important stakeholders in our community, along with his considerable expertise in forestry, make him an invaluable addition.

“With the state and nation paying close attention to climate change, climate-adapted forestry is coming to the forefront. It’s a great time for the RWF to be educating and expanding, showing the world how healthy, sustainable forest management can transform northern Minnesota.”

-Blake Francis, Rajala Woods Foundation Executive Director

“Under Blake’s leadership, we look forward to increased engagement and activities, proactive partnerships with government agencies and NGOs and continued work toward restoring the number of white pine and other long-lived conifer species in our northern forests,” stated Kurt Anderson, Rajala Woods Foundation Board Chair