If you own property with woodlands or are interested in stewarding woodlands owned by others, we've gathered resources and organizations that can help you become a successful woodland steward.
This starter guide is particularly useful for people interested in becoming stewards of woodlands greater than an acre in size and for those who do not have a history of woodland ownership in their families.
Minnesota’s forests and woodlands are diverse. From forests with many deciduous trees in southeastern Minnesota to the conifers that dominate much of northern Minnesota, there is the perfect tree and forest for everyone.
Learn about trees and woodlands
- The Woodland Stewardship textbook is an excellent resource for learning about woodland stewardship principles. Last updated in 2020, the book contains 16 different chapters related to woodland stewardship and a variety of activities that individuals can take part in. The book is available in a variety of formats including print, e-book, and online versions.
- The University of Minnesota Extension’s Forestry webpages include common topics of interest to woodland stewards such as tree selection and care, woodland stewardship planning, and gathering edibles.
- My Minnesota Woods provides timely articles on sustainable woodland management and achieving woodland stewardship goals. Sign up for a monthly email newsletter or follow the channel on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
- Other Minnesota organizations also provide excellent online resources relating to woodland stewardship. For example, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Forest Stewardship webpage has information for woodland stewards on a variety of topics including cost-share assistance and finding a professional forester.
Extension’s Master Woodland Steward program delivers comprehensive training for anyone interested in becoming better woodland stewards. This educational program teaches family forest owners the ins and outs of forest health, monetizing land, managing for recreation and wildlife, estate planning and taxes, and more.
Extension regularly offers online, in-person, and hybrid courses on forestry, natural resources, and environmental topics. Check the events calendar for workshops that may be appealing to you. Courses and workshops are updated regularly.
Find your woodland
Whether you own or will inherit or purchase woodlands in the future, or simply want to work in or volunteer to help steward woodlands, there is a path and a place for you.
Many woodland stewards find tremendous value in owning woodlands. There are approximately 194,000 private woodland owners in Minnesota who own nearly half of the state’s timberland at 7.7 million acres.
- To learn about purchasing land, search for real estate organizations that specialize in selling forestland, farms, acreage, and other lots.
- Asking local contacts in an area where you are considering purchasing land can provide important local expertise on land transactions.
- Hire a trusted professional with experience in land transactions that can help you navigate the process.
Some of the best woodland stewards do not own land but are actively engaged on lands owned by others. Volunteer interests vary widely from person to person, and opportunities are diverse across the state.
- Volunteer opportunities with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
- Volunteer opportunities with Minnesota Land Trust
- Search at volunteer.gov
You may also find opportunities with your local nature center, school, or just across your fence. Reaching out to neighbors about sustainable woodland management is a great way to volunteer your time and help Minnesota's woodlands.
Extension programs also provide volunteer opportunities that help woodlands:
Woodland stewards may have a keen interest in finding out about the history of the land. For woodland owners with property that has been in their family for generations, learning about the history of their land can be an enjoyable family activity.
Here are a few excellent resources to learn about land history:
- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Landview website is a great resource to access historical air photos. Landview allows you to create customized maps based on several data layers such as property boundaries, roads and water bodies.
- Historical land survey maps, also known as plat maps, are available for many areas in Minnesota. A digital collection of these maps can be found on the General Land Office Historic Plat Map webpage.
- Title information for properties can be searched for through the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office (GLO) Records webpage. This page provides access to federal land conveyance records for several states.
The lands that Minnesota residents steward today were the original homes of the Dakota Sioux and the Ojibwe. The following resources have excellent information on treaty rights and how Native Americans historically used the land:
- The 1854 Treaty Authority has an interactive map that provides information on resources within the 1854 Ceded Territory to facilitate the exercise of treaty rights.
- The Great Lakes Indian and Fish and Wildlife Commission has excellent information on hunting, fishing, and gathering rights.
A virtual exhibit on Why Treaties Matter explores Dakota and Ojibwe peoples’ relationship with their homelands and the importance of treaties.
There are several Minnesota-based organizations that can help you along your woodland stewardship journey. Many organizations sponsor events and meet-ups that bring together like-minded individuals:
- The Minnesota Forestry Association works on behalf of family forest owners through education and advocacy to promote stewardship of woodlands.
- The Minnesota Women’s Woodland Network recognizes and enhances the role of women in woodland management, whether they own land themselves, may inherit or purchase land in the future, or who simply are interested in supporting woodlands.
These statewide organizations also have local chapters where you can meet and interact with others to discuss your shared interests and successes in woodland stewardship.
Set goals for your woodland
A goal is a statement specifying what you want to achieve with your woodland. Establishing SMART goals for your woods will guide your decisions to care for your land, resulting in a process that is more likely to lead to success and may save you time and money in the long run. SMART is an acronym, with each letter helping you keep your goals focused:
- S - Specific
- M - Measurable
- A - Attainable
- R - Relevant
- T - Time-bound
A SMART goal helps you identify:
- Where you are and where you want to go.
- How you intend to get there.
- When you intend to arrive.
Defining your goals is an ongoing process. Your thoughts may change and you will likely refine these goals through time.
One example of a long-term SMART woodland goal is:
“Within the next 10 years, I will enhance habitat for the golden-winged warbler on 40 acres of my woodland property by working with a wildlife biologist and forester to conduct a timber harvest.”
Another example is:
“In the next five years, I will plant and protect 20 long-lived conifers each year. I will order trees one year to six months before planting season from private nurseries or from the soil and water conservation district in my county. I will fence around every newly planted tree to protect them from being browsed by deer.”
A professional forester is your best resource to help you to meet the goals you have for a woodland.
This list of foresters across Minnesota shows professionals that can assist woodland stewards with many activities, such as writing woodland stewardship plans.
These public and private foresters can also advise on woodland care and management and help you sell your timber.
Professional foresters from the Minnesota DNR or from public and private organizations can write a woodland stewardship plan. A woodland stewardship plan is unique to every woodland, helping you identify the species and volume of trees in it, how to improve its health and beauty, and when to take action.
Woodland owners with 20 to 5,000 acres, with at least 10 acres that have or will have trees, are eligible. The typical components of a woodland stewardship plan include:
- An aerial photo.
- A map of the forest cover types and plant communities.
- Written information about each of the cover types and plant communities found on your land.
- Specific recommendations to help you achieve your stated goals. These aren’t legally binding actions that are required to be done, but most landowners find them to be a useful guide in their forest management activities.
The cost of a plan depends on the forester and the size of the woodland. Your land may qualify for woodland tax and financial incentive programs if you register your plan with the DNR.
Reviewed in 2023