In 1911 the Legislature established the Minnesota Forest Service, a precursor to the DNR Division of Forestry as the result of the 1910 Baudette-Spooner Fire that destroyed Baudette and Spooner and killed at least 42 people.
The Minnesota Forest Service started with 21 staff members whose main responsibilities were to enforce new, strict laws governing slash removal; regulate railroads to prevent sparks caused fire, require burning permits; and create forest ranger districts. Offices were located in St. Paul and in 15 northern Minnesota cites. In 1931 the growing Minnesota Forest Service changed its name to the Division of Forestry. We now have more than 400 full-time, part-time, and seasonal staff members with 58 offices across the state. The main responsibilities have evolved to protect, manage, and educate the public about Minnesota's forest resources.
After the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 destroyed the town of Hinckley and killed 418 people, the Legislature authorized the appointment of a chief fire warden to enforce fire laws. The fire laws were passed to preserve forests and prevent and suppress forest and prairie fires. General C.C. Andrews, the first chief fire warden, organized a system of nonsalaried township fire wardens that extended over most of the forested area of the state.
More than 2,500 fire wardens assist forestry staff in providing open burning permits. Burning permits are required before igniting any fire that is not a recreational campfire. Fire wardens write tens of thousands of these permits every year. The dedication of these volunteers to the burning permit program is a huge service to the state and its citizens. Some of these fire wardens have devoted 60 years or more to the program.
Wildfire prevention and suppression was the main focus of the new 1911 Minnesota Forest Service. Large wildfires plagued northern Minnesota during the late 1800s and early 1900s because people often used fire to clear the slash that remained after logging or prepare the land for agriculture.
Today, the DNR Forestry continues to fight wildfires. On average, more than 1,300 wildfires occur each year in Minnesota. People cause nine out of 10 wildfires and escaped debris fires are the number one cause of human-induced fires.
In 1911 the focus of the Minnesota Forest Service's educational efforts was to generate active support to preserve Minnesota's forests. This was accomplished through personal contact, using local newspapers, giving lectures, creating literature that explained the work and services provided by the Minnesota Forest Service, providing talks and literature at schools, exhibiting at the state fair, and issuing a monthly magazine titled North Woods.
Today, DNR Forestry uses a wide range of education, information, and communication techniques to create an educated citizenry that understands the role of forests in our ecosystem and economy. The Private Forest Management Program works with landowners and urban homeowners to provide land management assistance and tree care advice. Through Project Learning Tree, the School Forest Program, and Arbor Month, teachers are supported with forestry-focused activities that address graduation standards. Smokey Bear, Firewise, and other fire prevention efforts promote individual responsibility and have helped reduce wildfires. DNR foresters engage landowners, educators, students, and business leaders to manage forests sustainably and promote wise use of the resource. Diverse partnerships with city, county, and federal natural resource agencies and organizations have greatly expanded the reach of all of our education programs.