A Million Acres of Forestation in Minnesota

Lead Author: Dr. Sarah Stai

Publish date: 12.15.2010


Maximizing the Environmental and Economic Benefits


On January 15, 2010, the Minnesota Forest Resources Council (MFRC) released a report entitled, “Assessing Forestation Opportunities for Carbon Sequestration in Minnesota".  The report was directed by the 2009 Minnesota Legislature in response to a key recommendation of the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG).  The MCCAG proposed the planting of 1,000,000 acres of trees in Minnesota as one component of a statewide strategy for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.  The purpose of the MFRC report was to evaluate the feasibility of creating one million acres of new forests in the state.


Due to the nature of the legislative mandate, the MFRC report was necessarily focused on forestation in the context of increasing carbon sequestration.  While carbon sequestration is one desired outcome, numerous other environmental and economic benefits can be achieved through forestation.  An articulation of the co-benefits of forestation and a description of how they can be realized should help leverage resources and maximize Minnesota’s return on investment by providing far-reaching returns relative to environmental health and the state’s economy.


A forestation initiative in Minnesota needs to take into account the diversity of the state’s landscape.  Minnesota is situated in a place of continental ecological importance.  North America’s three major biomes – prairie, deciduous forest, and boreal forest – converge here.  This ecological context has largely dictated Minnesota’s growth as a state and contributes much to our sense of identity.  It is against this backdrop that forestation on any scale must occur.  This report illustrates that a holistic, ecosystem-based approach will maximize the benefits of a forestation initiative.  Specifically, our objectives are to show that: (1) there are multiple benefits of forestation beyond carbon sequestration; (2) a million acres of forestation in Minnesota is a feasible goal; and (3) existing resources can be used in large part to accomplish large-scale forestation.


We conducted literature reviews, expert interviews, and introductory analyses to explore the environmental and economic impacts of a million acres of forestation.  We provide an overview of forestation benefits as they relate to ecosystem services; describe historical and regional perspectives on forestation; and discuss where forestation might occur in Minnesota with an emphasis on wildlife impacts and grassland protection.  We also address economic benefits and constraints specific to Minnesota and outline how combining or adapting existing programs and stacking incentives can be used to achieve target levels of landowner compensation that would promote forestation in appropriate areas.