MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota state forest land covering 4.8 million acres has been certified as sustainable, Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently announced. The newly awarded sustainable status makes Minnesota the largest certified forest land base in the United States.
The certifications were issued by the two top, independent forest certification organizations in North America – the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, an industry group, and the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent group that has its roots in the environmental community. With this effort, Minnesota now becomes a leader in managed acreage according to the best conservation practices required for certification.
"Minnesotans have always taken great pride in our vast forests," Pawlenty said. "(This) achievement is a testament to our long-term commitment to responsible stewardship of our heritage and future."
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the state forest lands for multiple uses, including recreation and timber production. Certification as a sustainable forest involves a rigorous on-the-ground review by independent third party auditors of all aspects of the DNR’s forest management practices, such as reforestation, harvesting methods, maintaining water quality and managing for the conservation of wildlife and plant species.
Once the standards for long-term sustainability are met, certification can be awarded. Annual certification rechecks will be held and the state must reapply after five years.
In 2003, the Governor’s Task Force on the Competitiveness of Minnesota’s Forest-Based Industries recommended that the state seek certification of its lands as a way to insure that an adequate supply of certified wood fiber would be available to paper and wood products mills in Minnesota. Certification was seen as a key factor to improve the competitiveness of Minnesota’s forest products industry.
"Certification is valuable as conservation-minded citizens increase the demand for certified forest products," Pawlenty said. "This includes everything from building materials to the paper sought by international magazine publishers who rely on top quality printing paper made from Minnesota forest products."
In Minnesota, timber-related industries employ more than 30,000 workers, with total wages over $1.4 billion annually. Approximately 60 percent of forest land – 10 million acres – is owned and managed by county, state and federal governments, with the remaining 40 percent – seven million acres – owned privately.
"With the SFI and FSC certified forest designations, our citizens and customers are reassured that products from our state forest lands have been grown, managed and harvested in a way that will assure long-term sustainability for biological, social and economic benefits," said Commissioner of the Minnesota DNR Gene Merriam. "The sustainable management of these DNR state forest lands is also important for tourism by providing recreational opportunities as well as habitat for a wide array of plants and animals, while also improving the quality of our water and air."
In addition to the state forest certification, Governor Pawlenty proposes to ask the voters for approval of a $187 million bond for capital expenditures on conservation.
"It’s time to make a stronger commitment to conservation and the outdoors by putting this amendment on the ballot this year to permanently dedicate resources to the environment for our children and grandchildren," Pawlenty said, announcing his priorities at the a speech to the DNR Annual Roundtable in St. Cloud.
Projects recommended for funding include $18 million to permanently save large tracts of forest land, expand state forests and plant trees.
The largest amount is $38.8 million that would be spent for drinking water and waste water programs at the Department of Employment and Economic Development and an additional $15 million for waste water infrastructure.
The governor proposes $30.1 million to continue efforts to put 120,000 sensitive acres under the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program program through the Board of Water and Soil Resources.
Proposals include $27 million in new spending for seven different fish and wildlife programs, $16.5 million for parks, trails, water access and land acquisition to improve outdoor recreation $11.7 million to expand metro area parks through the Met Council.
Finally, the governor wants approval of $11.1 million to deal with dangerous landfills for environmentally friendly methods of solid waste disposal through the Pollution Control Agency.
"This is a comprehensive package that addresses a wide variety of Minnesota’s environmental and conservation challenges," Pawlenty said. "I am hopeful the Legislature will agree that funding these projects is critical to continuing a bright future for Minnesota."