Minnesota forest

The millions of acres of Minnesota forests are important for many reasons. According to the National Forest Foundation, forests in the state are home to more than 3,000 animals, they improve air quality and are part of the country's forests that offset 10% to 20% of U.S. emissions. Photo by Rachel Fergus/O'Rourke Media Group

What is reforestation? 

The nonprofit “One Tree Planted” works with partners in over 43 countries to plant trees. It defines reforestation as “the process of replanting trees in areas that have been affected by natural disturbances like wildfires, drought, and insect and disease infestations — and unnatural ones like logging, mining, agricultural clearing and development. This can mean anything from supporting natural regeneration in an area that has been degraded to planting ecologically appropriate tree seedlings after forest fires.”

State of Wisconsin forests 

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2001, “Of Wisconsin's 35 million acres of land, almost 16 million acres are forested. Currently the area of forestland in Wisconsin represents 46% of the total land area of the state. Fifty-two percent of the forests are privately owned.”

The Division of Forestry has dedicated planning and managing efforts to forest growth for over 100 years. 

“Area of various forest types has changed significantly over time,” the Wisconsin DNR says. “Most of the increase in area of forestland between 1983 and 1996 occurred in 20-80 year old forests. Aspen-birch forests have decreased, maple, basswood, and oak-hickory forests increased, and conifer forests remained roughly the same.” 

Glacial activity was a tremendous transformative influence on the landscape of Wisconsin. It’s not all trees and plains covering the state. “Northern Wisconsin has one of the highest concentrations of freshwater in the world,” according to the Wisconsin DNR. “The Ojibwe word ‘wisconsin’ actually means ‘gathering place of waters.’” 

Southern Wisconsin has a denser population, “consequently much of the north remains forested because there is less pressure for agricultural and urban development,” the Wisconsin DNR says. “Over 70% of Wisconsin’s forests occur in the north, on only a little over 50% of the total land area.” 

The most common ownership of forest land in Wisconsin is non-industrial private ownership, followed by county and municipal ownership as well as national forest land, like the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin. “Forest industry owns 9% of the northern forest, providing wood primarily for the paper industry. Wisconsin is the number one paper-making state in the nation,” the Wisconsin DNR says. 

According to the National Conservation Easement Database, “a conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Also known as a conservation restriction or conservation agreement, a conservation easement is one option to protect a property for future generations.” 

In the case of forested land, a conservation easement would keep forests as forests on privately owned land. 

Climate change, in addition to agricultural and urban development, could threaten trees. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that “Although many trees are resilient to some degree of drought, increases in temperature could make future droughts more damaging than those experienced in the past. In addition, drought increases wildfire risk, since dry trees and shrubs provide fuel to fires. Drought also reduces trees' ability to produce sap, which protects them from destructive insects such as pine beetles.”


Minnesotans can get involved in reforestation projects. Minnesota's DNR Forestry Silviculture Program Coordinator Mike Reinikainen explained in a press release, “We rely very heavily on the public to supply seeds and cones to the State Forest Nursery. Gathering seeds and cones is a great outdoor fall activity that helps produce future forests, plus it’s a good way to make some extra money.” Stock image.

Reforestation importance

Along with replacing trees that have been taken down due to unnatural causes, it is sometimes best to manually reforest areas that have been impacted by natural causes, The U.S. Forest Services explains: 

“In some situations, relying on natural regeneration from on-site seed and genetic sources may best meet management objectives. While on other sites where the seed source has been lost due to a natural disturbance, such as a stand-replacing wildfire, tree planting may be needed to restore trees to the site. Forest Service nurseries and seed extractories remove seed from collected cones to grow adapted seedlings for out-planting. This assures that desirable species and stock types are used for restoring native ecosystems.”

Ultimately, trees are vital for numerous aspects of life. The National Forest Foundation states, “Reforestation after disturbances improves forest health. By planting the right species, reforestation helps makes our forests more resilient to future challenges like climate change and wildfire.”

According to the National Forest Foundation, by making replanting trees and forests resilient, the home of more than 3,000 animals is protected, air quality is improved, 10% to 20% of U.S. emissions are offset by the country’s forest each year, planting trees establish seed sources to help forests with a fast recovery, and forests are important for human well being. 

Forest Legacy Program 

The Forest Legacy Program, an outlet of the U.S. Forest Service identifies and protects “environmentally important private forestlands threatened with conversion to non-forest uses, such as subdivision for residential or commercial development.”

“Wisconsin's Forest Legacy Program aims to keep forests as forests by protecting large unfragmented blocks of forest lands that provide the highest conservation value and public benefit, and minimize conversion of forests to non-forest uses through the purchase of conservation easements.” 

Though landowner participation is entirely voluntary, a project can come in the form of a fee transaction where the landowner sells property to the state; or a conservation easement that restricts uses and development that would impact the conservation values of the property while ensuring sustainable forest management. 

Project applications are competitive, taking several years to complete as they make their way through state and national levels. 

Get involved 

Local residents are vital for annual reforestation efforts. DNR Forestry Silviculture Program Coordinator Mike Reinikainen stated in a press release, “We rely very heavily on the public to supply seeds and cones to the State Forest Nursery. Gathering seeds and cones is a great outdoor fall activity that helps produce future forests, plus it’s a good way to make some extra money.”

Purchasing prices vary by tree species. These include: 

  • $30/bushel for red pine 

  • $20/bushel for white pine 

  • $85/bushel for black spruce 

  • $160/bushel for red maple

  • $10/gallon for yellow birch

  • $20/gallon for basswood

Southern Minnesota dropoff locations include: 

  • Lake City Field Station, 1801 S. Oak St., Lake City, 651-299-4010

  • Faribault Field Station, 1810 NW 30th St., Faribault, 507-497-1350

  • Mankato Field Station, 117 Roger St., Mankato 507-389-8811 

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