Outdoors: Minnesota forests under pressure

Minnesota has some magnificent forests. According to the Minnesota DNR there are about 17.4 million acres of Minnesota forest land under all ownerships combined.

That includes state parks, county forest lands, privately owned forest land and the Chippewa and Superior National Forests.Minnesota has 52 native tree species, 2, 363 miles of state forest roads, 46 state forest campgrounds, 1,200 miles of state forest trails and 62,400 jobs involved in the forest industry with an estimated $17.1 billion of annual economic impact (2014 data). It is estimated that Minnesota has over 3.5 billion quaking aspens, the most common tree in the state.

Almost all federal land in Minnesota is natural resource land, primarily forest acreage in Chippewa and Superior national forests. Minnesota’s newest state park, Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, has shifted 3,000 acres of private land to the ownership of Minnesota.

So, while we have some wonderful forested areas in our state, there is increasing pressure to reduce our forested areas. Here are just a few of the ways this is happening:

-With increasing population growth worldwide comes increasing pressure to convert forests into agricultural land. While the rain forest destruction gets much of the world’s attention, we are converting forests and other lands into agricultural use and other developmental uses at a significant rate in Minnesota too. From 1982 through 2012, 234,000 acres of forest land were converted to other uses.

-Urban sprawl also puts pressure on forests and agricultural land. Agricultural land too has been converted into other land use at alarming rates. From 1982 through 2012, 470,000 acres of agricultural land was taken out of production and converted to other developed land uses according to research conducted by Minnesota statistics on farmland. What was once a farm is now a mall or parking lot.

-Rural sprawl, building homes into the forest, has had a huge impact too. Over the past decades there has been a pattern of developing homes by fragmenting forests into smaller parcels of land.

-Roads, bridges, and right of ways all take chunks of forests out of production. Converting two-lane highways to four-lane highways takes a significant toll on forests and these reductions are permanent.

-Private companies like Potlach and Champion, who have gotten out of the paper producing business, lost their tax breaks on forests in Minnesota and have elected to sell off much of their land rather than pay the taxes. There are usually no strings attached to the new owners, so use of these parcels can be determined by the owners.

-Scientists are predicting that the emerald ash borers could kill 1 billion black ash trees in addition to the green ash, white ash and blue ash that are at risk. This could be the most devastating pressure on Minnesota forests in our lifetime. No one knows for sure what is going to happen when these insects spread across the state.

So, Minnesota forests need our help. As citizens and policy makers we need to focus our attention on our remaining forests to ensure they are here for our children.