Road Easement Access Rights Project

Photograph of a forest road

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the DNR pursuing prescriptive easements?

In many areas, DNR-managed lands have been intertwined with those of other natural resources administrators, primarily other governmental agencies and large timber companies. The roads that ran through this mixture of land ownerships were built many years ago and were often managed cooperatively by all who used them. Now, a number of parcels of land owned by large timber companies are being sold to private individuals who may not have an interest in keeping them open to the DNR and other land-managing agencies. Sometimes those citizens attempt to close these roads, causing DNR and other agencies to engage in costly and time-consuming litigation to maintain their rights to roads systems they have built and maintained. Recording the DNR's prescriptive easements will ensure that these roads will be available to DNR land managers in perpetuity so they can continue to provide Minnesotans with high-quality land management.

What are the benefits of these easements to local citizens?

Continued management of public lands for a wide variety of forest products will benefit local economies by creating jobs and delivering vital forest products to local and worldwide markets. The roads are generally left open for public travel and can be enjoyed by a wide variety of users. Also, many rural landowners use these roads to access their lands and the easements will ensure their access will continue as it is today.

What changes will I notice due to the DNR claiming these prescriptive easements?

None. The administration and use of these roads will continue in the same manner as they have for the many years the DNR has managed the roads. The only difference is that the DNR's interest will be formally recognized at the county recorder's office, to ensure that no landowner will legally be able to close the roads or limit their use.

How is the width of the easements is determined?

The easement area is determined by use. If the current width of the road, ditches, and backslopes is 20 feet, the easement is 20 feet. The width of the easement could vary greatly over the course of a road's length because many of these roads were built to follow the terrain and widen or narrow as land and vegetation patterns allow. The centerline is not defined, nor is there a metes and bounds description, as in a conventional granted easement. The position of the road on the recorded map defines the location of the easement.

What constitutes a road for this project?

Both system and minimum maintenance state forests roads are eligible; the main characteristics and uses of each are outlined below. Additionally, the roads in this project must have been used for at least 15 years.

 

System Road

Minimum Maintenance Road

Characteristics

  • designed and maintained to serve highway-licensed vehicles
  • provides forest access where continued management is necessary
  • provides access to state land for recreational uses, forest protection and forest development
  • usually connected to the state, county or township public road system
  • used for forest access on an intermittent, as needed basis
  • open to all motorized vehicles but not be maintained to the level where low-clearance licensed highway vehicles can routinely travel on them

 

Use

used at least on a weekly basis and often used on a daily basis

used for forest access on an intermittent, as-needed basis

 

What are prescriptive easements?

Prescriptive easementsare the right to use another person's property acquired by continuous usage of that property. They are similar to adverse possession. However, in adverse possession the interest is of full fee ownership; in prescriptive easements, the interest is of some lesser rights.

Who can claim prescriptive easements?

Anyone who uses the land of another, without permission and with a claim of right, over a set period of time. The state is claiming its easements from private landowners, on existing roads. Private landowners cannot claim prescriptive easements over government lands, only over lands owned by other private landowners.

What are the criteria for claiming prescriptive easements?

The use of the land must occur in an actual, open, adverse, exclusive and continuous manner for a period of 15 years. In the case of public road authorities, if public monies are spent on the road, the time period is lessened to six years. The DNR is not a public road authority, so the 15-year standard applies to DNR prescriptive easements.
"Actual" means the use occurred, rather than being planned or threatened. "Open" means the use is known to the owner. "Adverse" means the use is without the owner's expressed permission. "Exclusive" means the use was only by the individual or entity claiming the rights. "Continuous" means it occurs on a regular basis. (In rural or undeveloped areas, occasional and sporadic use may give rise to a prescriptive easement. The exact definition of "continuous" varies somewhat based on the nature of the use.)

What lands will be affected by this project?

The DNR will seek prescriptive easements on the lands of any private individuals, corporations, and state subdivisions, provided the criteria above are met.

What impact will these easements have on private property values and liability of the eased landowners?

The state forest roads involved in this project have been maintained and used by the DNR for many years. There will be no change in the management of these roads due to the prescriptive easement process. Therefore, there is no anticipated change in value to the affected landowners. Additionally, landowners will not incur any new liability for any incidents related to the use of these roads.

What about county, federal and tribal lands?

Counties are considered subdivisions of the state, so the DNR has the legal authority to seek prescriptive easements on county lands. The DNR cannot seek prescriptive easements over federal and tribal lands.

Over which roads, routes and trails will the DNR be claiming prescriptive easements?

The DNR will seek prescriptive rights on roads designated as state forest roads, both "system" and "minimum maintenance." No access routes or trails will be included.

How does this project relate to off highway vehicles (OHV)?

The process of designating OHV trails is separate from the prescriptive easements process, and the two are not related. For information on the OHV process please refer to the State Forest Classification and Trail Route Designation or contact Brian McCann, 651-259-5627, brian.mccann@state.mn.us

Will these easements be any specific width?

No. Prescriptive easements are "rights in use," so each easement will be for the width of the road as it has been historically used. This includes any ditches, backslopes, or other maintained areas that contribute to the overall roadway.

Do these easements give private landowners legal access to their lands adjacent to state forest roads?

You can present evidence at a public hearing*, write to the commissioner of natural resources, or, within 120 days after the commissioner adopts the DNR state forest road map for the area in which your property interests are included, bring suit in district court.
*In order to be included in the permanent records for this project, any evidence provided at the hearing, or after, must be submitted in writing.

What if I disagree with the DNR's desire to seek a prescriptive easement across my land?

You can present evidence at a Public Hearing*, write to the Commissioner of Natural Resources, or within 120 days after the Commissioner of Natural Resources adopts the DNR State Forest road map for the area in which your property interests are included, bring suit in District Court.

*In order to be included in the permanent records for this project, any evidence provided at the hearing, or after, must be submitted in writing.

If your questions are not answered here contact:
Jerry Bourbonnais
DNR Forestry Road Easement Specialist
500 Lafayette Rd St. Paul,
MN 55155
phone: 612-390-4012
email: jerry.bourbonnais@state.mn.us