Family Forest Stewardship

Forest ImageAs a child growing up in the Minneapolis suburbs, I learned about the North Woods from my father. Born into a poor family in a small Nebraska town, my Dad’s ticket to the big world came from the Navy ROTC. When the Korean War ended he came to Minnesota to enroll in graduate school. A child of the prairie, my father’s first experience with Minnesota’s north country came when a University buddy invited him on a canoe trip. They drove up to Ely, down the Fernberg Trail to Lake One and on into Lake Insula. The experience changed him forever. Soon he had bought us a canoe and trips to the BWCA became a beloved family ritual. Around the campfire at night my Dad would read to us aloud from Sigurd Olson’s Singing Wilderness and Listening Point.

Some years later he and my Mom bought 80 acres of woods and a modest “deer shack” in Cass County. Long a devoted birder and fisherman, my Dad now also became a tree lover. He got a forest management plan for his land. Every winter he’d order seedlings. We’d plant them in the spring and bud cap them in the fall to protect them from the deer. Now his second growth forest of balsam and poplar is intermixed with young pine stands, the kind of trees that grew there before the “Big Cut.” My Dad will turn 80 this year, but he’s still planting trees. It’s his gift to the future.

The good news for Minnesotans and especially for future Minnesotans is that there are a lot of people like my Dad taking care of their woods. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Stewardship Program has written management plans for over 10,000 family forest landowners, affecting 1.5 million acres. The Program is now in the process of updating its five-year plan, due to be unveiled in July. The plan provides technical advice and long range planning guidance to forestland owners, including new information about emerging opportunities for family forest stewardship in the state. It endorses a goal set by Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities Initiative to bring an additional million acres of family forest lands under stewardship by 2015. The plan revision process is being facilitated by Dovetail Partners with support from Blandin Foundation.

There will be opportunities for stakeholder review before the plan is finalized. Those with questions about the project can contact Andrew Arends, Cooperative Forest Management supervisor for the DNR Division of Forestry at 651/259-5261.


Greg Nolan of Snowy Pines Reforestation near Browerville, MN responded to my pre-Forest Values/Carbon Markets blog post with some innovative ideas of his own.

Translating it into my own words, Greg is suggesting a hands-on training program for noncollege-bound rural youth that could be the “boots-on-the-ground” talent needed for more best-practice silviculture on more acres, including especially family forests.

This vision strikes me as pretty aligned with one of the recommendations from our Nordic Tour: to increase the use of intermediate treatments in Minnesota. What I find so appealing about Greg’s idea is that it would not only increase the use of intermediate treatments (read his post for a great description of all of the silvicultural good he’s doing with a simple chain saw and brush cutter), but catalyze local entrepreneurship and engage rural youth “left behind” by traditional college and university programs.

His talk of intermediate treatments as “weeding” reminded me of the “forest weeding” machine that our Nordic Tour participants saw demonstrated in Finland.

We also saw a guy in the woods with a chain saw, employed by UPM to do the very sort of management Greg is calling for in his proposal I asked Cheryl Adams about this, and she reported that the Blandin Mill does some of the same kind of work on their land here in Itasca County at a rate of 2-3 acres/day/person for releasing very young trees (“cleaning”) and 1-2 acres/day/person for pre-commercial thinning.

What do others think about Greg’s idea and the viability of creating a market among family forest land owners for this approach to timber stand improvement/intermediate treatments?

Opportunities for MNNot to be confused with a community event that brings together lumberjacks and funnel cakes, organizers have started referring to the February 25-27 Forest Values and Carbon Markets: Opportunities for MN conference and MN SAF Winter Meeting as “Cloquet Forestry Days”.

The agendas for both the conference and meeting are taking shape and available on the Blandin Foundation’s website, along with an online registration details.

I don’t think funnel cakes are on the menu, but I hear that the celebration of the new forest tax law will include a cake of some sort.

Wooland owner Stan Maleska

Wooland owner Stan Maleska

The blog picked up a story about Stan Maleska, an Itasca County woodland owner, written by our friend Julie Miedtke (University of Minnesota Extention) for the September 2008 issue of the Itasca Woodlands newsletter.

“Life’s Priorities:” A visit with Stan Maleska allows us to tag along with Julie and Stan as they walk his woods and talk about his life. It’s a heart-warming read.

Thanks to Katie Fernholz at Dovetail Partners Inc. for alerting us to this opportunity.

The National Network of Forest Practitioners is sponsoring a webinar, Reaching Family Forest Owners on July 29 at noon (EDT). Presenters include Mary Tyrrell, the Executive Directors of the Global Institute of Sustainable forestry at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Brett Butler, Research Forester at the Family Forest Research Center for the U.S. Forest Service. NNFP Logo

Tyrrell and Butler will highlight ways to use social marketing principles to increase the likelihood that messages and programs reach more forest landowners.

This webinar will be of special interest to leaders of landowner associations and forestry cooperatives, Extension educators and specialists, service foresters, NRCS, SWCD and RC&D Forestry Specialists, land trust and conservation groups and for anyone else who works with forest owners.

This webinar is free to NNFP members and $10 for non-members. For more information on specifics, contact Scott Bagley, 740-593-8733 or

Bruce ZumBahlenThanks to Bruce ZumBahlen for submitting the following guest post to the VFVC blog.

Dear VF/VC readers,

During the 2007 MN legislative session, the Governor vetoed an Omnibus Tax Bill that included a property tax break for woodland owners who have a forest management plan, The veto was for reasons unrelated to the woodland tax provisions. So close was the forestry community to having a law that would help in achieving the goal of having another 1 million acres under forest management plans.

But, you can’t keep good legislation down. That 2007 Omnibus Tax Bill was resurrected during the 2008 legislative session. It passed this time minus the provisions that the Governor opposed. The Governor signed it in early March. For the first time, MN has a law that provides the opportunity for woodland owners who are managing their property under a forest stewardship plan to receive a reduction in their property taxes payable in 2009 and thereafter.

As reported earlier by Matt Rezac on this blog site, the new law allows forest owners to apply to their county assessor to have their lands assessed at 0.65% rather than 1%. The management plan must meet the Sustainable Forest Incentive Act (SFIA) standards but the land can not enrolled under the SFIA (to avoid the perception of double dipping). The Tax Bill also changed the SFIA law. With the strong support of Senate Tax Committee Chair Tom Bakk, the SFIA minimum annual payment was raised from $1.50 per acre to $7.00 per acre.

Building on what had already been enacted, another bill sponsored by Representative Hosch was introduced this session to aid in administering the new property tax break. An attempt to lower the class rate to 0.55% failed, but the other provisions to improve what is now titled in statutes as “2c managed forest lands“ made it into another Omnibus Tax Bill. It was a nail biter, but the Tax Bill passed in the closing hours of the legislature.

This second Tax Bill raised the minimum acreage eligible for the tax break to 20 acres from 10 acres enacted earlier keeping the maximum acreage to not more than 1,920 acres. It eliminated the annual application requirement that will save time for county assessors and the landowners alike. Another provision allows split classifications of parcels with a structure so that woodlands could be separated from being subject to a higher assessed classification. The Bill also exempted the 2c managed forest lands from being classified as to their highest and best use.

The MN Department of Revenue will be preparing guidance to county assessors on how to implement the new law in the new future. So, give it a little time before approaching your county assessor to take advantage of the new law.

The following organizations partnered with the MN Forestry Association in support of the legislation: the Audubon Society, Avon Hills Initiative, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy, MN Deer Hunters Association, MN Forest Industries, MN Seasonal Recreation Property Owners Coalition, MN State Tree Farm Committee, MN SWCD Forestry Association, Ruffed Grouse Society, and the Nature Conservancy. Thanks to all for your support in encouraging retention and sustainable management of family forest lands.

Bruce ZumBahlen
MN Forestry Association

Thanks to the DNR’s Meg Hanisch and Keith Jacobson for sharing the Division of Forestry’s summary of major 2008 legislative outcomes affecting our state’s forests.

Vital Forest/Vital Communities partners and programs had a positive impact on a number of the funding and policy decisions, including the appropriation for Forest Legacy conservation easements, the allocation to the Minnesota Forest Resources Council for a study of policy tools for preventing forest fragmentation and parcelization (co-funded by Blandin Foundation), the Minnesota Forests for the Future program and adjustments in the way sustainably managed woodlands are taxed.

Changing the way our woodlands are accessed and taxed was one of the key recommendations identified by participants in the 2006 and 2007 Family Forest Stewardship conferences as part of a strategy to achieve the goal, embraced by over 20 organizations, to increase the number of acres of family forestland with Forest Stewardship Management Plans from 1.3 million to 2.3 million by 2015.

Congratulations are particularly in order to Bruce ZumBahlen, his colleagues at the Minnesota Forestry Association, Jeff Forester and the Minnesota Seasonal Recreational Property Owners Association and Tom Kroll for their hard work on helping achieve these improvements to the Omnibus Tax Bill. Your vision, collaboration, and tenacity made it happen!

Next Page »