There are no size, acreage, or tree requirements to be in the School Forest Program. The land needs to match the teaching goals of your school – that may mean prairie, forest, wetland, the woodlot down the street, or your schoolyard. Any natural space can be used as an outdoor classroom.
Whether your district owns land or you need to find land, there are a few things to consider.
- Land Options
To find out more about any of the options below, contact the School Forest Staff.
Purchased or School Owned
- Land can be purchased by the school district for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a School Forest. Existing land owned by the school district can be designated a School Forest.
- The School Forest Statute (Minn. Statute, Section 89.41) allows tax-forfeited land to be deeded to a school district or educational institution. This process involves working with county government, since county offices administer most tax-forfeited land in Minnesota.
- Schools can enter into partnership with a city, corporation, or private landowner to gain access to land. The most common partnerships are with city entities to use community parks as School Forests.
- When entering into a partnership, either a Joint Powers Agreement (with government entities) or a Management Agreement (with private landowner) is needed. Contact the School Forest Staff, to ensure a proper agreement is created.
- While land donation to a school is rare, it does happen. A private individual, business, or organization can donate a parcel of land to a school.
- Land Considerations
There are a variety of considerations before designating a new School Forest.
- An easement is a land ownership issue to consider when acquiring or changing status of School Forest land. An easement grants rights for access to land to satisfy an interest. A School Forest may need to get an easement or give one to another interest. Easements are typically granted for purposes of right-of-way, right of entry, and right to water. For example, a public snowmobile or hiking trail might be located adjacent to a School Forest and the city or county might request an easement across School Forest land for citizens to access the trail. Or a School Forest site might have the best entry point by crossing a private individual's land, and thus an easement is necessary. Easements are handled either at the time of land acquisition or by the school district superintendent or lawyer after land acquisition. The School Forest landowner is the ultimate decision maker on an easement. If you have questions about easements, contact your local DNR forester, School Forest Staff, or school district legal representative.
- Consider transportation issues prior to designating a School Forest located far from the school grounds. If buses must be used, think about safety and cost.
Accessibility to All Students
- Distance to site, difficulty of terrain, and safety issues should be considered. If compliance with the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a concern, contact your school's attorney and ADA specialist for clarification. There are many things that can be done to make School Forests accessible to everyone. Contact the School Forest Program Manager Manager for ideas.
Traditional Use of Land
- Find out if your School Forest land has traditionally been used for hunting, trapping, snowmobiling, All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) use, horseback riding, dog-walking, or access to another area. These uses may conflict with the intended use of a School Forest, and impact the activities you will be able to safely conduct there. For additional information, consult the Safety and Legal web pages. You may also wish to contact the School Forest Staff and your local DNR conservation officer.
School Maintenance Staff
- Some School Forest sites are located adjacent to the school grounds and are able to utilize school maintenance staff to support School Forest land management. It is crucial to engage school maintenance staff early in the development of the School Forest and to keep them actively involved in School Forest activities. Their support can be a big benefit if they are engaged and feel some ownership in School Forest projects. Keep communication open and respect each other's ideas and needs. Consider inviting a member of the school maintenance staff to be on your School Forest Committee to keep communication open and encourage their involvement and ownership in the site.
- Already have land?
If you already have land there are a few things to start working on. First, contact the School Forest Staff. They'll be able to give you more detailed information on what you'll need for your application.
Here are the main requirements:
Copy of the Deed:
The deed legally describes the area of land that is owned. Your superintendent should have this if its school owned land, but if not, contact the county recorder's office. There is usually a small fee for the copy. However, it's important for administrators to understand what area of land the school is liable for.
This can be done in a few ways so it's important to contact the School Forest Staff for further information on how to proceed with this step. It needs to be noted correctly in all files for future reference.
There are many tools that can help create a map or you may already have one on hand. It can be hand drawn, a plat map (if your School Forest is an entire parcel), or you can use a Google map using drawing tools to create the perimeter. See below for a few examples.
The DNR provides a variety of support for managing your land.
If you are considering any harvest on your School Forest, always contact your DNR forester first.
Harvesting or logging is a way to keep your forest healthy and generate money. Harvesting might be a part of your Stewardship Plan. Trees on large sites can be logged and sold for a profit. Smaller sites may need selective harvest or tree removal to keep the woods healthy.
Large Tract Harvest Options
School Forests with large tracts of land can generate a significant amount of money from selling timber (sale of stumpage) to a local mill.
To set up a sale, always call your DNR forester first. This service is free to all registered DNR School Forests. If you are approached by a logger or local business to log, contact your DNR forester to ensure that you are able to maximize profit and maintain a healthy and diverse forest after the harvest.
The forester will mark the timber for sale and help you select a qualified logger. He or she can also finalize sale details such as how to harvest the timber, account for the wood and financial considerations, and reforest the site.
Remember, harvesting happens on long rotations. It might be 20, 30, 40, or more years before your site can be harvested again. Thus, your School Forest Committee will need design the School Forest budget accordingly to reflect this long-term investment. Money generated from the sale of timber, or any forest product, from School Forest land should be used to support School Forest or other natural resource education activities.
Small Tract Harvest Options
For smaller School Forests sites, your DNR forester may recommend selective harvesting —such as removing hazard trees or less desirable species—to keep the forest healthy. In these cases, money is not generated from the harvest, or tree removal.
In some urban areas, school forests might need to pay to have trees removed. Your DNR forester can help tag the trees to be removed and find people to do the work.
Many smaller sites ask a community member to volunteer to remove the trees or use the opportunity to demonstrate horse logging. Horse logging is still an active trade in Minnesota and a great way to remove small numbers of trees or trees that are difficult to reach and remove with modern equipment. Regardless of who fells the trees, be sure the people involved are either certified arborists or loggers to ensure proper safety measures are followed. Ask your DNR forester for assistance if you are unsure of what you need.
If you do not know your DNR forester, locate your local DNR forestry office.
- Land Management
The DNR School Forest Program can provide support and resources to help you manage your land. However, the DNR will not manage your land for you, make specific requirements, or set your management objectives. It is up to you to identify your management priorities and carry them out.
- Develop a long-term School Forest Stewardship Plan with you.
- Advise and assist on easements, land ownership, restricted site use (such as ATVs, hunting, horses, etc.), trespass issues
- Advise on site management, such as trails, invasive species removal, reforestation, etc.
- Help you set up and guide timber harvests
- Connect you to local resource groups for establishing rain gardens, trails, boardwalks, etc
- Provide free tree seedlings each spring
- Stewardship Plan
A stewardship plan is written by a forester. The forester will visit your site, meet with your School Forest committee to learn your goals, and write a plan specific to your needs. The primary goal of a stewardship plan is to increase the use of the School Forest for education.
Be prepared to meet with your forester by having educational and land management goals in mind. Site coordinators and school forest committees manage the site for the whole school. Consider doing a school-wide assessment, asking all teachers for input, to create goals that reflect the multiple needs and uses of the forest.
Examples of School-Wide Assessments
Stewardship plans are long-term site management plans. This means that even if school staff changes, the steps and goals of the plan stay the same. The School Forest Program keeps a copy of the stewardship plan and gives another copy to you.
A stewardship plan contains a list of your school's goals, the forester's assessment of the natural resources on your site (including a map), and recommendations of how to meet your goals.
Examples of School Forest stewardship goals:
- Increase School Forest use
- Design trail network and natural features to promote student, teacher, and community use
- Improve the quality of wildlife habitat and timber resources
- Establish or enhance original vegetation
- Maintain health of the trees
- To use the land as an education tool through a self-guided trail
- To demonstrate timber harvests that will generate income
- Reduce invasive species
- Learn from the interactions of natural and human communities
- Protect riparian areas
- Reduce vandalism
Stewardship plans are site-specific and are intended to be used as a guiding document.
Stewardship plan Template
Sample stewardship plans
- Site Development Ideas
- Site features add uniqueness and character to a school forest. Even a few key features can make the site more usable, comfortable, and welcoming. Features can be designed as simple or elaborate as you desire and made from materials ranging from stumps and logs to finely crafted, pre-made purchased items. Check out site features from various school forests.