The family business of preserving Minnesota's ecosystems |

The family business of preserving Minnesota's ecosystems

Blaise Keller
Updated: December 07, 2020 10:57 PM
Created: December 07, 2020 04:53 PM

(ABC 6 News) - According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the state is home to four biomes from prairie grassland bordering the Dakotas to deciduous and coniferous forests stretching along the Mississippi. But there's a lot of stressors on these biomes including habitat loss, climate change and invasive species which is why two brothers and their cousin have made it their jobs, literally, to preserve these biomes. 

"Did you ever think growing up, middle school, high school, college even, that you'd be back in the woods so to speak?"

"No, not really at all."

"I honestly didn't think so either, but I'm happy we made it back there."

Nate Dietzenbach and his adopted brother, Kevin Dornink, along with five other siblings, grew up in Cresco, Iowa, where it was instilled at a young age to be outside. Whether it was playing football, out in the woods in the back of their home or being around the many animals their family had on their farm. With roughly five acres or so of woods, Nate, Kevin and their other siblings would either make forts or clear parts of the woods so they could camp. A memory Kevin specifically remembers.

"We have family out in California, [they] stayed with us and we spent the whole clearing a huge section of woods so we could have a bunch of tents out there for our family."

When it was time for college, Nate found himself pursuing a business degree while Kevin and the rest of the family moved to Lime Springs. There, Kevin says he did small construction jobs but knew that wasn't for him. Nick Hamilton, Kevin's cousin, lived in Rochester which meant Kevin shortly found himself in the Med City. That's where he found the Conservation Corps.

A non-profit for those ages 18-25, Conservation Corps goal is to "help young people from diverse backgrounds become more connected to the environment". While Nate was living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, Kevin stayed not one but two years with the organization saying he wanted to stay outside but didn't want to continue working construction jobs. The first year, Kevin spent learning then he managed his own crew the second Summer he was there. It was after his second Summer with the organization that Kevin decided he wanted to not only continue in environmental conservation but he wanted to be his own boss while doing it. 

"We were talking about it finally he was like 'Hey I had some people talk to me like I should start my own business doing this conservation stuff'," says Dietzenbach.

While transitioning between jobs, the brothers were living with each other - Kevin with the environmental background and knowledge and Nate with the business background. Together, after Nate researched whether or not a private environmental conservation business would be a means of making money, the two opened Brothers Up North in the Fall of 2019. But it wouldn't be until the Spring of 2020 that they got their first job.

"Our first job we were planting, what was it, five thousand trees down by La Cresent. It keeps flooding down there and just destroying the vegetation and everything, so we were planting a bunch of swamp oak to hopefully retain the soil and keep everything there so it doesn't flood as easily," says Kevin Dornink, co-owner of Brothers Up North. Kevin says he was excited because he was finally putting his passion into action. Not to mention, he was able to teach Nate about the process, as well as the others they had helping them. Nate says he was happy to learn but also because they were making money after months of not. 

On their website, the brothers offer forest restoration along with timber stand improvement, fencing, boundary line location, forest trails and prairie restoration. However, the brothers are also in the business to remove invasive plant species. Kevin says that invasive animal removal may be coming in the future.

"There's a lot of like garlic mustard, honeysuckle is almost just as bad as buckthorn. Not as bad but just as bad almost," says Kevin. 

In addition to garlic mustard, honeysuckle and buckthorn, there's a length list of invasive plants that have found their way into Minnesota according to the Minnesota DNR. Having removed some of these species before starting their business, Kevin says that many home, land owners are unaware of what some of these invasive species look like. But they pose a very real threat to the ecosystem that they've invaded.  

"In the long term, [invasive species] will harm the forest, kill all the trees that we need. They will eventually kill off native plants that we need that we need to survive for certain animals,  they will eradicate animals in the future and just stuff like that." 

Though they hope their business is successful, their other hope is that Minnesota's ecosystems stay as natural, with many native species, as it can. However, both Nate and Kevin cite lack of education or awareness about invasive species is to blame. One of the brother's long term goal is to buy some land to show those who are curious what a certain biome should look like versus what these biomes look like with the invasive species.

"Most people I talk to love Minnesota and like, let's fix it," says Kevin Dornink, co-owner of Brothers Up North.

"Eventually one day, if we don't do something about it, we're going to have everything just overgrown and it's going to be destroying everything we love about Minnesota," says Nate Dietzenbach. 

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