A Little Background
The story of county lands is actually a familiar one. "County forests" originated during the 1930s as a means of coping with a desperate chapter in the state's history - the Great Depression. During this era, soils were depleted and exhausted from the workings of the plow; farms and forests were abandoned because of cut-and-run logging, homesteads failed; and wildfires took their toll on the land. Thousands of acres of land became tax delinquent as owners could not or, for a variety of reasons, would not pay their taxes. These lands were labeled "worthless." They became the "lands nobody wanted." In 1935, in an attempt to return these acres to private ownership, the Minnesota Legislature provided for forfeiture of these delinquent lands, thereby enabling their resale to others. By this time, about eight million acres of tax-forfeited land had accumulated in the state. Unfortunately, delinquency and subsequent forfeiture continued at a high level into the 1960s. Counties soon began to realize the value of these acres as an opportunity to renew soils and to grow trees on a sustained-yield basis. If taken care of and nurtured, counties could use the bounty of the tax-delinquent lands to strengthen local economies and generate revenues. Counties, primarily in the northern regions of the state, began to appoint land commissioners to serve as stewards of the land, adopt forest resource policies, and initiate forest management programs. The rest is, 'history.' these tax-forfeited lands became viewed as assets to be treasured, retained, and wisely managed. In 1979, the Minnesota Legislature enacted "Payment In Lieu of Tax Legislation" that encouraged retention of the tax-forfeited land. The law provided compensation to local taxing districts (like the counties) for retaining the land that was, in reality, a loss of tax base for them. Payments continue to this day, and are based on numbers of acres. While tax relief is a primary objective, a portion of the payment is dedicated to intensifying the management and improvement of the natural resources.