Stories in Minnesota

How We’re Restoring Minnesota’s Forests

We are working to plant trees, prevent wildfires and build resilience in Minnesota’s precious forests.

A person stands on the rocky banks of a forest stream.
Northwoods Forests and water are interconnected in Minnesota's Northwoods. © Ian Shive

Minnesota’s trees and forests enrich our lives in so many ways. Beyond their visual splendor, they provide shade, wildlife habitat and places to hike, hunt and enjoy the outdoors. They are nature’s own water purification system, absorbing pollutants and trapping sediment, protecting our lakes, rivers and our drinking water.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for hundreds and even thousands of years. They also provide timber products, food and medicine, and generate jobs and economic opportunities.

Our Work in Minnesota Forests

  • Icon of three trees.


    trees planted since 2005.

  • Icon of a seedling


    seedlings planted in the area burned by the 2021 Greenwood wildfire.

  • Icon of a river with trees around it.


    miles of shoreline restored along rivers and streams.

  • Icon of fire


    acres of forest burned using prescribed fire in 2023.

But like other forests in North America, Minnesota’s forests are in trouble. These lands are the past and current homelands of the Anishinabewaki, Bdewakantuwan, Ochethi Sakowin and Sisseton. Stewardship by the Indigenous inhabitants of the Northwoods helped sustain a healthy forest, and their descendants continue to do so today. In the early 1800s, 31.5 million acres of forest covered the area that is now Minnesota. Today, that number has been reduced by nearly half, with less than 18 million acres of forest.

Over the 19th and 20th centuries, logging, slash burning, wildfires and modern harvesting practices brought by European settlers dramatically changed the state’s forests. They have become greatly simplified in the diversity of tree species and age. This makes our forests less resilient and more vulnerable to stresses like invasive species, disease and insect infestations and changes in the climate.

How We're Helping

  • A person places tree seedlings into a metal bucket.

    Increasing seedling supply.

    In order to restore forests for the future, we need to make sure we are producing enough seedlings today. Learn more

  • A person plants a tree seedling while carrying a bag full of seedlings on his back.

    Planting and tending trees.

    We work with forest managers and government agencies to plant a diverse mix of hundreds of thousands of seedlings every year, and we care for those seedlings to make sure they are thriving.

  • A firefighter manages a controlled burn in a forest.

    Returning fire to the woods.

    Prescribed burning is an essential tool to maintain the health and diversity of our forests and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

  • Aerial view of mist settling in the valleys of an expanse of forest.

    Protecting existing forest.

    We conserve forest through conservation easements and acquisition. Learn more

  • Two people stand next to a lone tree on a mountain overlook.

    Advocating for healthy forests.

    We’re helping advance public funding and policy for forest restoration. Learn more

A hand holding a conifer seedling.
Tree seedlings New seedlings ready for planting. This tree planting was on state property near Finland, Minnesota and administered under Minnesota’s Aquatic Management Area program to protect critical shoreland habitat and provide access to land managers and anglers. The Nature Conservancy's Plant A Billion Trees campaign is a major forest restoration effort with a goal of planting a billion trees across the planet. Finland, Minnesota. © David Bowman

It Starts With a Seed

We’re working with partners toward a goal of reforesting one million acres in Minnesota. It’s going to take a lot of trees to reach our goal.

That’s why we’re working with university and nonprofit partners, Native Nations, and local, state and federal government agencies to dramatically ramp up tree seed collection, seedling production and planting around the state. Minnesota farmers are also helping to grow tree seedlings on private lands. Together, we’re aiming to produce several million seedlings over the next four years.

Greenwood Fire Tree Planting (1:43) In 2021, the Greenwood Fire ripped through a 30,000-acre forested area in northern Minnesota. In the scorched landscape of the wildfire, TNC and partners are working to replant climate-smart tree species that are expected to thrive in the area's future climate.
A person walks through the charred remains of a burned forest.
Regenerating The 2021 Greenwood Fire wiped out a swath of seed-producing trees in Northern Minnesota. The Nature Conservancy is working to replant the lost forest. © Derek Montgomery

After the Greenwood Fire

During a drought in August 2021, a lightning strike sparked a blaze that burned through 26,348 acres of forest in Lake County, Minnesota. Some areas were burned down to the bedrock. With so much damage to the soil and the loss of so many seed-producing trees, we needed to help the forest regenerate by kick starting the next generation of trees. That’s why The Nature Conservancy has planted 289,990 seedlings, including white spruce and white pine, to grow a more diverse and resilient forest.

Explore Our Work in the Forest

Trees for Trout

We're restoring climate-resilient forests to ensure the future of an essential Minnesota pastime—trout fishing.

Highway 61 Reforested

Replanting forests on the North Shore of Lake Superior is our route to forest resiliency.

Great Lakes Northwoods

This critical landscape provides high-quality freshwater, maintains species biodiversity, and naturally stores carbon.

Thick fog shrouds tall conifer trees in a forest.
Foggy Forest A North Shore forest is shrouded with fog. © Ian Shive

Preparing for Climate Change

A warming climate exacerbates existing threats to our forests. Warmer temperatures allow pests to thrive and extend dry periods, which increases the risk of catastrophic wildfire that endanger lives and homes.

But forests are also part of the solution to climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, slowing the pace of warming. If we reforested one million acres in Minnesota, those trees could remove the equivalent of 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. That’s equivalent to removing 348,000 cars from the road each year.

We use science to inform our forest restoration and protection strategy. We’re planting “climate-smart” seedlings sourced from central Minnesota, a bit south of where we plant them in northern Minnesota. Doing so ensures that we’re growing trees that are native to the region, but which are more likely to have genes that are adapted to warmer temperatures, which increases their resilience to climate change. We also are ramping up our efforts to conduct prescribed burns on forestland to safely clear out vegetation that could fuel devastating wildfires and to restore habitat for native plants and wildlife. We’re helping to support high-quality carbon credits that give landowners incentives to keep carbon-rich forests intact. 

Minnesota’s iconic forests provide so many benefits. That’s why we at The Nature Conservancy are advancing practical and innovative solutions to preserve their health and resilience to benefit people and nature.