This report concerns public and private forests in northeastern Minnesota. It does not specifically deal with water resources except to note the following: “Ideally, forest management for restoration, forest health, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity benefits should be continued even when market prices are low. Delaying management because of poor market conditions may result in declines in forest health due to insect or disease issues being left untreated or other changes that can diminish water quality protections and important wildlife habitats. Delayed harvests and associated silvicultural treatments can also negatively impact recreation and other social benefits benefits.” Also, under the topic of water quality, the report advocates utilizing improved inventory data (forest cover types, species, age, native plant communities, soils, etc.) to evaluate current conditions in known impaired watersheds and develop long-term plans. Other key points are extracted and summarized below. “Minnesota is among a small number of states that have county managed forest land. This report explores the history and current contribution of Minnesota’s county-managed forest lands, including the diverse social, economic and environmental benefits they provide. "Minnesota’s “county forests” originated during the 1930s. During the era of the Great Depression, the state was challenged with the consequences of unsustainable farming practices, cut-and-run logging, bankrupt homesteads and devastating wildfires. Thousands of acres of land became tax delinquent as owners could not, or for a variety of reasons would not, pay their taxes. These lands were labeled "worthless” and became the "lands nobody wanted." In 1935, in an attempt to return the tax delinquent acres to private ownership, the Minnesota Legislature provided for forfeiture of these lands to local counties, thereby enabling their resale to others. By this time, about eight million acres of tax-forfeited land had accumulated. Delinquency and subsequent forfeiture continued at a high level into the 1960s. As the demand for land remained low and many of the acres were not re-sold, the land continued to be the responsibility of the local county governments. Over time, the counties began to recognize opportunities to care for these lands in ways that could rebuild the soils, restore forest habitats, enhance local communities and create long-term economic returns. Counties found they could manage the lands to grow trees on a sustained-yield basis and the returns from this management could improve the environment and also provide jobs, revenues to meet public needs, and other benefits. In 1979, the Minnesota Legislature enacted "Payment In Lieu of Tax (PILT) Legislation" that encouraged retention of the tax-forfeited land by the local public land managers. The law provided compensation to local taxing districts (i.e., counties) for retaining land that represented a loss of tax base. These payments remain important for sustaining the needs of local communities and ensuring continual stewardship of natural resources. Counties do not share a uniform plan or prescription for management of forests. Each county manages its woodlands independently. Local interests, including the common use of citizen advisory committees, inform management decisions and county staff and boards administer the lands. In recent years, county land departments have provided leadership in several areas linked to responsible forest management. These include third-party forest certification, forest-based carbon offset opportunities, motorized recreation management, and forest inventory needs. Most of the benefits and services of county lands are not easily quantified and many are provided at no direct cost, which makes estimating their value difficult. However, related research has explored the potential value of these types of benefits. 98% of the lands each year are providing undisturbed habitat, water quality and recreation benefits. Minnesota’s county forest lands, unwanted in the 1930s, now provide unique opportunities to address local community needs, contribute to resolution of emerging issues, and demonstrate responsible forestry. County land managers are currently challenged by a number of significant threats, including invasive species, forest health concerns, and reduced markets. At the same time, the management of county forests is subjected to political pressures, shrinking local and state budgets, and competing interests. Minnesota is one of a few states that has county-managed lands within the public land category. These county lands can be described as Minnesota’s “community-forests” due to the important social, economic and ecological services they provide as public lands under local control. The county-managed lands provide a unique type of land ownership within the context of public forest lands in the state. To ensure the delivery of the services and benefits of these lands for future generations continued investment and statewide commitment to their responsible care and management is required.”
Fernholz, Kathryn; Bowyer, Jim; Howe, Jeff; Bratkovich, Steve; Frank, Matt.
Minnesota’s County Land Management A Unique Ownership Providing Diverse Benefits.
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