County Lands History

County Lands: The Forests Nobody Wanted

The Forests of Unwanted Lands

Minnesota is unique! There are 2.8 million acres of land in county ownership. Today, the "lands nobody wanted" are valuable treasures. They contribute to the overall economy of the state, play an important role in tourism and recreation, and provide the habitat for the state's wildlife and plant species. Counties supply 38 percent of all wood commercially harvested from public lands in Minnesota.

To be most effective in meeting the responsibility of management and stewardship of Minnesota's forest resources, professional forest managers founded the Minnesota Association of County Land Commissioners. Men and women with foresight, took the lands in the state that "nobody wanted" in the mid-20th century and nurtured them into valued treasures for the citizens of Minnesota.

A Little History

The story of county lands is actually a familiar one. "County forests" originated during the 1930s as a means of coping with a desperate chapter in the state's history - the Great Depression. During this era, soils were depleted and exhausted from the workings of the plow; farms and forests were abandoned because of cut-and-run logging, homesteads failed; and wildfires took their toll on the land. Thousands of acres of land became tax delinquent as owners could not or, for a variety of reasons, would not pay their taxes. These lands were labeled "worthless." They became the "lands nobody wanted." In 1935, in an attempt to return these acres to private ownership, the Minnesota Legislature provided for forfeiture of these delinquent lands, thereby enabling their resale to others. By this time, about eight million acres of tax-forfeited land had accumulated in the state. Unfortunately, delinquency and subsequent forfeiture continued at a high level into the 1960s. Counties soon began to realize the value of these acres as an opportunity to renew soils and to grow trees on a sustained-yield basis. If taken care of and nurtured, counties could use the bounty of the tax-delinquent lands to strengthen local economies and generate revenues. Counties, primarily in the northern regions of the state, began to appoint land commissioners to serve as stewards of the land, adopt forest resource policies, and initiate forest management programs. The rest is, 'history.' these tax-forfeited lands became viewed as assets to be treasured, retained, and wisely managed. In 1979, the Minnesota Legislature enacted "Payment In Lieu of Tax Legislation" that encouraged retention of the tax-forfeited land. The law provided compensation to local taxing districts (like the counties) for retaining the land that was, in reality, a loss of tax base for them. Payments continue to this day, and are based on numbers of acres. While tax relief is a primary objective, a portion of the payment is dedicated to intensifying the management and improvement of the natural resources.

The Managers of Unwanted Lands

County land managers are united in their ethic of forestland stewardship. However, counties do not have one uniform plan or prescription for the management of these forests. Each county manages its woodlands differently - depending on the vitality of the land, the species the land grows best, and the demands on the land by the public.  The loss of forest lands to development and other non-forest uses and an ever-increasing population will substantially increase the demands on, and importance of county administered tax-forfeited land. These forests must be managed to meet the needs of today, as well as those of future generations of Minnesotans and its visitors. The Minnesota Association of County Land Commissioners is dedicated to the protection, stewardship, and multiple use of county resources and to the promotion of education and understanding of the proper use of the land.  Pine County is a member of the Minnesota Association of County Land Commissioners (MACLC) and encourages you to visit their web site by clicking the above link.

Land Department Contacts

Greg Beck, Land Commissioner/County Forester 
(Tax forfeit land, land sales, timber harvest and forestry inquires)

Joe Kelash, Land Management Technician
(Tax forfeit land management and sales, forest management, and forest inventory)

Land Department
1610 State Hwy 23 N
Sandstone, MN 55072