Four actions for better forest management: A Minnesota perspective

by Matt Russell

Last month, Eli Sagor introduced me to the MyMinnesotaWoods team and I’m excited to be aboard! In my new role with the U of M Department of Forest Resources and Extension I’ll be addressing forest ecosystem health issues for forest landowners and natural resource professionals across Minnesota.

recent report by Steve Shifley and colleagues from the US Forest Service caught my eye. They outline five anthropogenic factors that will alter northern forests within the next 50 years. Not surprisingly, some of these factors include how invasive species will impact forests, the trends in expanding urban areas, and low forest diversity. As a relatively new resident of the state, this report got me thinking about how having clear management goals and adequate planning can help to maintain a healthy and productive forest.

Garlic mustard is an invasive species of concern in MN. photo: hspauldi (Flickr)
Garlic mustard is an invasive species of concern in MN. photo: hspauldi (Flickr)

Let’s be realistic: maintaining a sense of optimism can often be difficult when planning for and adapting to the myriad threats to our forests. This summer alone, the state has imposed a gypsy moth quarantine, confirmed emerald ash borer in a new county in southeastern MN,  and spruce budworm has shown up again with strong numbers in St. Louis County. Despite this, we can think about strategies that seek to manage these various threats to maintain or increase the resiliency of our forests.

The report outlines four basic management actions that land managers can take to address these factors. Using Minnesota as an example, we can see how we are currently addressing these actions and highlight new opportunities for maintaining resilient forests:

1. Develop goals for forest diversity

Like any good plan, developing a list of benchmarks or goals can help to identify a successful management strategy. For measuring diversity, we can think about how a woodland or forest ownership meets several benchmarks. A few of these benchmarks include identifying the species found in your forests, understanding the age of the forest, and documenting its structure and general tree size.

If you’re a forest landowner, how are you monitoring your woods? Are you working with a professional forester on implementing a woodland stewardship plan?

2. Better understand urban forests and their role in a changing landscape

Minnesota is a unique state in terms of its vast (and economically important) forests, farms, and urban areas. All forests, whether in wilderness or in an urban setting, provide valuable ecosystems services through their ability to provide clean air, clean water, and sequester carbon. As pointed out in the report, the economic value of the ecosystem services that urban forests provide are tremendous. Such annual ecosystem services are valued between $233 to $456 million in several large metropolitan areas.

Key management concerns of urban areas are (1) to identify where future urbanization is likely to impact forests, (2) to sustain urban and community forests for the ecological values they provide, and (3) understand how forest health may be impacted by changes in land use. Tools such as the MN Geospatial Information Office’s land use and land cover data products will be important in examining the role of urban forests in a changing landscape.

3. Develop conservation goals across all forest owners

Forests managed solely for the timber they provide lose value when timber markets are down. Instead, managing forests holistically for the the goods and ecosystem services they provide increases the likelihood of managing a sustainable forest.

We publish on nontimber forest products and forest stewardship issues on a regular basis at this site. Looking forward, we will continue sharing these topics. We also hope to gain more unique perspectives on how different forest owners and managers are tackling various conservation goals.

4. Work together to understand how forests are changing

Managing a single acre of woods may be easy to implement and monitor. Things get complex when multiple ownerships with contrasting management strategies and goals are considered collectively. In other words, how are management actions promoting resistant and resilient forest ecosystems at a landscape level?

photo: Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative
Collaboration is key to understanding future forests. photo: Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative

Such an example of working together in Minnesota can been seen in the Manitou Collaborative established by The Nature Conservancy. Comprised of county, state, federal, and private ownerships in northeastern MN, the Collaborative seeks to sustain timber products, enhance wildlife habitat, and retain scenic beauty across the Manitou landscape.


How are you carrying out these management actions for your ownership or lands that you manage?

Readers can access the full report that is forthcoming in an issue from Forest Science here.

Also, click for more info on the US Forest Service’s Northern Forest Futures Project.

Matt works on issues related to forest ecosystem health. He's based in St. Paul.

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  1. Hi Matt
    Look forward to your articles. I only have one complaint with the articles on MNWoods. They speak in elementary terms to the grossly uninformed. Some of us readers are well informed to get beyond the elementary questions and comments about ‘invasive species’ and so-called global warming and its effect on native plants and insects.
    Where, if not MNWoods can we turn to find the hatch days of harmful insects on the basis of Growing Degree Days that any computerized weather monitoring system can determine in order to be watchful then and have early detection? Surely there is data on that event. Tell us!
    I live in north central Minnesota and have no Buckthorn, no Garlic Mustard, no Ash trees and so far no sign of Tent Caterpillars. We have a seemingly normal population of the solitary Bumblebees and other pollinators. Our DNR forester is good at tree management fot timber production, but not as informed on habitat management for wildlife, other than to tell me how timber management ‘helps’ wildlife. An elementary vague remark in my mind. It appears one has to take a degree course in forestry or wildlife management to get in depth answers and I know the information is out there for us laypeople who are beyond the elementary stage.
    Your help is welcomed with in depth informative articles, not just posing elementary questions and comments.

    Thanks Ken Quass

    1. Thanks for your comments Ken. We do strive to provide content for a variety of audiences here at MyMNWoods. We realize that not every post or blog is appealing to everyone. We are happy to hear that you’re looking for more information!

      Great resources for finding more in-depth info on key management topics are the recent workshops that have been offered by the UofM’s Sustainable Forest Education Cooperative. Materials from these workshops are primarily targeted to natural resource professionals, but might have some of the detail you’re looking for. Several of these over the past few years have emphasized wildlife and forestry issues. Also, you might find a stewardship plan preparer in your area that specializes in what your management goals might be.

      Thanks again for your input!-Matt