DNR has worked on the old-growth forests issue since the 1980s. Important dates in the development and implementation of DNR's old-growth policy include the following:
- 1983 – Old-growth forest issue emerges and DNR begins policy discussions on how much and where to protect old growth, using the Forestry/Wildlife Coordination Guidelines.
- 1988 – DNR forms task force to develop Old-Growth Forests Guidelines.
- 1990 – DNR Commissioner approves Old-Growth Forests Guideline following public review and in response to an out-of-court settlement.
- 1994 – DNR Old-Growth Committee establishes a Stakeholders Round table of forest industry and environmental interests agree on targets for protecting remaining highest quality old-growth forests on state lands; Guideline is revised.
- 1998 – Old-Growth Guideline is implemented with systematic inventory, evaluation, and designation using a old-growth database; DNR Commissioner's Office and OMB Science-Policy Unit staff provide standards and oversight.
- 2003 – Old-growth forest designation of highest quality stands completed.
A key policy decision was to involve the public and stakeholders in the discussion of old-growth forests. Out of those discussions came the 1994 Old-Growth Forests Guideline, which set an approximate goal for the amount of old growth to be protected on state land. DNR began a systematic study of state lands in 1998 to provide detailed information about old-growth forests, and this led to the official recognition—or "designation"—of certain areas as old-growth forest protected from future logging. Designated old-growth forest is protected as long as they maintain their old-growth characteristics. If an individual protected stand loses its old-growth features it can be replaced with another stand of similar quality outside the protected network.
With respect to old-growth forests, DNR makes decisions consistent with the 1994 Old-Growth Forests Guideline and its Amendments. The 1994 Guideline explains the steps needed to protect old-growth forests and sets targets in different regions of the state for protecting a certain number of acres of these ancient forests.
DNR's old-growth forest policy is also informed by the 1994 Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Timber Harvesting and Forest Management in Minnesota (1994 Forestry GEIS). This study described the effects of harvesting 4.1 to 4.9 million cords each year from the state's forests and recommended mitigation strategies to lessen potential significant impacts. Several GEIS mitigation strategies and recommendations address old growth and related old forest. These included inventory and reservations of old-growth; managing 20% of state and federal forests on longer rotations than is common today (extended rotation forestry); modifying cutting practices in sensitive areas such as streamsides; and linking old-growth forests and other natural areas through corridors. These corridors would be part of the 20% of the forest managed using extended rotation forestry (ERF).
Through its old-growth forest policy, DNR has carried out its responsibility to protect the best old growth forest on its lands. DNR old-growth designation results are consistent, although not identical, with old-growth recommendations and assumptions found in the 1994 Forest GEIS. Detailed comparison can be found in the report, "DNR Old-Growth Forests Guidelines: Implementation Results 2002."