Landscape Scale Restoration grant aids Minnesota’s at-risk forested resorts

The USDA Forest Service Landscape Scale Restoration competitive grant program promotes collaborative, science-based restoration of priority forest landscapes. These grants help ensure our nation’s forests continue to provide important benefits to the American public, including timber and fuel wood, wildlife habitat, watershed protection and well-paying rural jobs.

MINNESOTA — Facing a rapid decline in Minnesota family-owned forested resorts, a USDA Forest Service grant matched by the state of Minnesota is supporting a project that reduces the risk of forest conversion to other land uses while providing direct benefits to struggling family resort owners.

The number of family resorts in Minnesota has fallen by 70% since 1970, including 26% just from 2002 to 2010. The high cost of owning and managing these forested resorts increases the chances these forestlands will face development, parcelization and fragmentation.

Funding for the project, “Protecting Minnesota’s Family Lake Resorts and Enhancing Local Tourism Through Forest Stewardship,” totals $190,000, with $95,000 each coming from Forest Service Eastern Region Landscape Scale Restoration funds and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The project organizers will complete about 30 woodland stewardship plans with forested resort landowners.

The Forest Service Forest Stewardship Program works in partnership with state forestry and other agencies to connect private landowners with the information and tools they need to manage their forests and woodlands. Actively managed forests provide timber, fuel wood, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, recreational opportunities and many other benefits.

Lindberg Ekola, now with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, said the project’s concept originated years ago. At the time, Ekola was working for the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, where a member expressed skepticism that forestry could actually help the tourism industry she represented.

Fast forward to today. “We’re using forestry as a tool to promote tourism,” Ekola said.

A key feature of this project is its landscape stewardship approach, which encourages family resort landowners to consider their entire property in their forest management decisions.

“Resort owners focus on the two acres along the lakeshore for the main resort functions, but they might own 40 acres or more,” Ekola said. “By focusing on the backlot woodland, we can help bring additional technical and financial resources which can help landowners keep the resort protected. The focus is to bring a landscape stewardship approach promoting forest stewardship activities on family resort lands.”

The project will provide forest management advice to landowners and benefit Minnesota tourism through improved forest stewardship, resulting in improved forest health and protecting water quality and recreation opportunities. It will also serve to “keep forests as forests” by reducing the risk of forest conversion, fragmentation and development.

John Carlson, with the Minnesota DNR Division of Forestry, detailed their progress so far. “We convened the planning committee,” he said. “We have the base project research done and have the draft landscape stewardship plan together. We contacted the University of Minnesota and the Association of Minnesota Resort Owners to get a listing of resorts. We joined that info with parcel data to get an understanding of the land ownership patterns.”

Through the project, woodland stewardship plans will be completed with forested resort landowners. These plans are an important first step for landowners to start managing their land with a focus on their own forest improvement goals. For instance, a landowner might choose to increase biodiversity on their land to more attract wildlife, put in a pond or thin a forest stand to improve the timber — or even create a walking trail or demonstration project for their improved woodlands.

“If we encourage them to take it further, they might do a walking trail or a demo project of improving their woodlands,” said Carlson.

Creating a stewardship plan also brings financial benefits for landowners through a tax reduction program, called the 2c Managed Forest Land, that reduces local property tax on their land. To be eligible, landowners need at least 20 qualifying acres and a current woodland stewardship plan (no more than 10 years old) that is registered with the DNR.

“If they get a woodland stewardship plan, that might help them pay their taxes so they can maintain their resort and keep it from switching owners through development,” Carlson said.

Once they see the benefits firsthand, some resort owners may become ambassadors for good forest management. “It’s in their best interest to have better forest management in their watershed,” Ekola said. “There is a direct tie between the amount of forest cover and the water quality in the stream.”

The multi-year grant project is expected to wrap up in two years and will also include preparing a report with specific forest policy recommendations that support forest-based recreation on family resorts.

Interested landowners can visit the Minnesota DNR’s Forest Stewardship Program website.