The development of comprehensive forest management guidelines is a core mandate of the Sustainable Forest Resources Act. Development and implementation of the guidelines has served as a foundation of the work performed by the MFRC. The guidelines are intended to reduce the potential for negative environmental impacts resulting from timber harvesting and other forest-management activities on all forest lands in the State. The guidelines are used primarily by forest managers, loggers, and forest landowners during forestry activities such as timber harvesting.
Minnesota’s timber harvesting and forest management guidelines address the management, use, and protection of historic and cultural resources, riparian areas, soil productivity, water quality and wetlands, wildlife habitat, and visual quality. These guidelines are:
Comprehensive—Address a wide variety of forest resource issues.
Science-based—Grounded in the best available scientific information.
Voluntary—All landowners apply the guidelines according to their management objectives.
Integrated—Guidelines protecting various forest functions and values are contained in one cohesive package.
Flexible—Accommodate a range of site-level conditions and management objectives.
Stakeholder based—Involve the full spectrum of interests in guidelines development, education, and monitoring.
The Site Level Forest Management Guidelines (FMGs) were last revised by the MFRC in 2012. Starting in 2020, the Site Level Committee began undertaking a three-part approach to determine whether revision of the FMGs is warranted at this time. The SLC revision review process will be utilizing: 1) a FMG stakeholder survey, 2) a FMG Guideline Monitoring Program review, and 3) a FMG scientific literature review. The main findings of the stakeholder survey and Guideline Monitoring Program are summarized below and are being used to help assess any potential opportunities for guideline revision.
FMG Stakeholder Survey Overview FMG Monitoring Program Recommendations FMG 2022 Executive Summary
Shortly after its inception in 1995, the MFRC implemented a process that assembled diverse stakeholder groups to create science- and consensus-based voluntary site-level forest management guidelines. From mid-1996 to late 1997, more than 60 people participated on four technical teams to draft proposed guidelines for forest soil productivity, historic and cultural resources, riparian zone management, and wildlife habitat. Throughout 1998, an integration team blended these four sets with existing water quality/wetland and visual quality best management practices, generating a comprehensive set of forest practices guidelines that provided a suite of cost-effective options for management. In December 1998, the MFRC unanimously adopted the final set of guidelines which were eventually published in early 1999. The initial analysis also identified how guidelines may affect timber availability.
Since their inception the guidelines have been revised three times, with the first comprehensive revision completed in 2005 as outlined in the SFRA. In that same year, the Minnesota Legislature directed the MFRC to develop guidelines related to woody biomass harvesting on forestland in response to emerging concerns on increased utilization for bioenergy production. The woody biomass harvest guidelines were published in January 2008, representing the first state-level guidelines in the United States for the sustainable removal of woody biomass for energy from forests, brushlands, and open lands. The MFRC initiated a third revision in 2010 to address long-standing issues with the riparian area guidelines, but other topical areas were also evaluated for revision, and the entire revision process was completed in late 2012. A condensed version of the guidelines that focuses on those most commonly used during timber harvesting was published in 2014. The condensed version is user-friendly pocket field guide that summarizes the guidelines in a concise format that includes picture examples, useful tips, and a compilation of online resources.
The following sections provide general information and resources related to the forest management guidelines.
Appropriate pre-harvest planning is the most important factor influencing proper implementation of the Forest Management Guidelines (FMGs) while maintaining efficient harvesting operations.
Pre-harvest planning consists of two primary objectives:
1. Collect information about the planned site, management objectives, and harvest plan, and anticipate potential problems that may occur; and
2. Develop strategies to avoid, mitigate, and document those problem situations.
Pre-harvest planning is generally conducted in five steps:
1. Gather and review existing information about the harvest site, including topographic maps, aerial photos, plat books, soil maps, protected water maps, visual quality maps, and inventory reports for cultural resources and/or endangered, threatened, or special concern species.
2. Conduct an on-the-ground site survey to identify and evaluate:
a. Site access points and visual quality issues.
b. Existing roads, landings, and skid trails.
c. Soil conditions (texture and drainage class).
d. Steep slopes, poorly drained soils, and other areas that should be avoided if possible.
e. Streams, lakes, and wetlands.
f. Ideal locations for stream and wetland crossings.
g. Cultural resource potential.
h. Snags and nesting areas.
i. Presence of invasive species.
3. Evaluate the considerations identified in steps 1 and 2.
4. Create harvest plan and map that documents planned FMG implementation on the site, and which also includes clear identification of the locations of roads, landings, skid trails, crossings,
and special concern areas.
5. Conduct an on-site meeting with the landowner, forester, and logger before on-site activities begin. Communicate the plan to all parties and members.
Although essential to any timber harvesting operation, roads, landings, and skid trails have potential to reduce soil productivity and increase sediment delivery to streams and wetlands. Planning landing, skid trail, and road layout to utilize existing infrastructure and avoid sensitive areas helps to minimize impacts to soil and water resources while conducting management activities.
Planning for roads, landings, and skid trails generally consists of three primary objectives:
1. Minimize the amount of new road, skid trail, and landing area at a harvest site;
2. Locate new roads, landings, and skid trails away from sensitive features such as riparian management zones (RMZs) and wetlands; and
3. Minimize erosion, compaction, and rutting.
The removal of vegetation associated with management activities, as well as the potential for increased soil disturbance concentrated near roads, landings, and skid trails, can increase erosion at harvest sites. Proper placement of roads, landings, and skid trails, and application of erosion control structures can reduce the potential for erosion to negatively impact water quality and soil productivity.
It is important that foresters, loggers, and/or land managers know when and where erosion control is needed and necessary, and that appropriate erosion control structures are installed and maintained when needed.
When evaluating erosion potential, three main factors must be considered:
Minnesotans take great pride in our water resources, and protecting those resources is a central objective of the Forest Management Guidelines. Crossing streams and wetlands during harvest activities has the highest potential to result in degraded water quality through alteration of water flow, delivery of sediment, and spills of fuel and lubricants.
For this reason, it is important that before any management activities occur, care is taken to ensure that:
• All streams and wetlands are identified and crossing them is avoided whenever possible.
• All necessary permits are secured prior to crossing and wetland or other body of water.
• Appropriate structures and techniques are used to minimize impacts to streams and wetlands. These may include the use of temporary bridges, ice bridges, fords, or culverts for stream crossings and encouraging frozen-season harvest when possible to limit effects on wetlands.
Riparian areas are areas that transition from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems along streams, lakes, and open water wetlands. Riparian areas are important for many forest resources including plant and animal diversity, habitat, water quality, and forest recreation. Timber harvesting in or near riparian areas has the potential to impact these resources if proper care is not taken to minimize negative effects.
Riparian Management Zones (RMZs) are defined as the portion of the riparian area adjacent to a stream, lake, or open water wetland where RMZ guidelines apply. This area is dependent on the recommended RMZ width, which varies according to stream, lake, or open water wetland characteristics. Some of these characteristics and associated RMZ widths are described below:
• Designated trout streams, tributaries, and lakes: 165’ RMZ
• All non-trout streams greater than or equal to 3 feet wide, and lakes and open water wetlands greater than or equal to 1 acre in size: 120’ RMZ
• All non-trout streams less than 3 feet wide and lakes and open water wetlands less than 1 acre in size: 50’ RMZ
A filter strip is defined as an area of land adjacent to a waterbody that traps sediment before it reaches surface water. Harvesting is permitted in a filter strip as long as the integrity of the filter strip is maintained. The width of a filter strip and RMZ (if present) may be the same or different depending on slope and water feature type.
Health and diversity of wildlife depends on the availability of suitable habitat. Application of guidelines during harvesting operations can mitigate impacts to wildlife habitat and help maintain healthy populations into the future.
In general, the Forest Management Guidelines encourage the maintenance of live trees, snags, and dead wood to promote habitat structure after harvesting. The guidelines also recommend that the forester, logger, and/or land manager check for the presence of endangered, threatened, or special concern (ETS) species and modify harvest activities as needed.
Guidelines related to cultural resources and visual quality address the need for our forests to be managed in a manner that conserves multiple forest values.
Cultural resources are defined as any site, building, structure, object or area that has value in American history, archaeology, architecture, engineering, and/or culture. This includes resources as varied as the archaeological remains of a 2,000-year-old Tribal village, an abandoned logging camp, a portage trail, or a pioneer homestead. They also include roads, bridges, dams, fire lookout towers, and cemeteries (including burial mounds). Guideline related to cultural resources stresses the preservation of these resources to the greatest extent possible and as required by law.
Resources such as the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), as well as township, county, regional, or state histories, maps, land surveys, and business records should be consulted when there are no existing cultural resource surveys for a site. It may also be appropriate to seek information about and from local and historical Tribal communities and conduct interviews with historians, archaeologists, and/or others knowledgeable about a site’s history.
Minnesotans are concerned about the aesthetic quality of forested lands throughout the state, which are a great source of pride for Minnesotans and a draw for tourism to the state. Scenic beauty—or “visual quality”—is one of the primary reasons people choose to spend their recreation and vacation time in or near forested areas.
Interest in biomass harvesting has grown in recent years as the use of woody material for energy has increased in response to IPCC renewable energy standards. Biomass harvesting removes more wood and nutrients from a site than conventional harvests, increasing the potential for impacts to wildlife, biodiversity, and site productivity. MFRC was a leader in recognizing these potential issues related to increasing rates of biomass harvesting, and in 2006, published the first guidelines in the United States to address these concerns.
The key components of the guidelines related to biomass harvesting include:
1. Knowing the site conditions when biomass harvesting should not be conducted; and
2. Retaining recommended amounts of slash or woody debris when conducting biomass harvesting, in order to conserve nutrient sources, provide appropriate wildlife habitat, prevent erosion, and maintain site diversity.
As Minnesota considers its role and opportunities in combating climate change, there is the potential that increased usage of biomass for energy may play a role in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Training in guideline use and application has long been a primary mechanism employed to improve guideline implementation. Training is generally targeted to those who implement the guidelines in the field: loggers, foresters, and managers. The MFRC works closely with the Minnesota Logger Education Program (MLEP) and the Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative to provide a variety of educational opportunities related to the guidelines.
The Minnesota Logger Education Program (MLEP) is a logger-initiated program established in 1995 to promote high operational standards, enhance logger professionalism, and respond to the SFRA. MLEP provides training on the MFRC voluntary forest management guidelines. In addition to classroom and field training opportunities, online, self-paced training has recently become available. For more information about training opportunities, refer to the MLEP workshop page.
The Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative (SFEC), located in the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, was established in response to the SFRA in 1995. More than 40 organizations—including private, county, state, federal, and tribal institutions—represent the cooperative membership. Its purpose is to provide innovative education programs for natural resource professionals by offering training on current research findings, new technologies, and state-of-the-art practices. For more information and training opportunities, refer to the SFEC webpage.