The Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) in Itasca County and the Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary SNA in Clearwater County will be the first forests in Minnesota to officially join the national Old-Growth Forest Network on Oct. 12-13.

The Old-Growth Forest Network is a nonprofit working to connect people with nature by creating a voluntary national network of protected, publicly accessible forests. The network’s goal is to identify and ensure the preservation and recognition of at least one forest in every county in the U.S. where forests grow, focusing on celebrating our nation’s oldest forests. 

Minnesota will become the 35th state to have forests in the network, adding to more than 200 forests recognized nationwide.

“Minnesota has 48,000 acres of protected old-growth forest” Minnesota DNR Forest Ecologist Emily Peters said. “It provides unique habitats for native plants and animals, and important recreational and spiritual opportunities for Minnesotans. The DNR has a longstanding goal to protect this rare and important forest resource on state lands.”

The 1,600-acre Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary SNA is located within Itasca State Park. The natural area holds an important place in Minnesota’s conservation history. It was established in 1939 within the park at the suggestion of the Minnesota Academy of Science, to preserve a part of the wilderness character of the state that existed prior to European settlement. In 1965, it became Minnesota’s first National Natural Landmark. Most of the sanctuary was designated a state SNA in 1989, as the finest example of Great Lakes Pine Forest in north-central Minnesota.

The 114-acre Lost 40 SNA owes its 32-acre old-growth pine forest to a surveying error during the Public Land Survey in 1882. As the story goes, the pines were missed by loggers because surveyors mistakenly mapped the area as Coddington Lake. The site was re-surveyed, and the error corrected in 1960. Shortly after, it was incorporated into Big Fork State Forest and its old trees have since endured. The DNR designated this old-growth forest in 1995.

“These are outstanding examples of old-growth forests protected on state lands,” Peters said. “We’re pleased to have these sites incorporated into the national network.”