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New Minnesota state forester was parks and trails official

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Minnesota has a new state forester, but it's not someone new to the state's forests.

Forrest Boe, a 29-year veteran of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was named director of the DNR's forestry division on Monday. Boe most recently served as the deputy director of the Parks and Trails Division and spent 20 years of his career in northern Minnesota with the agency's former Trails and Waterways Division.

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"Forrest has a long track record at the DNR of working closely with industry groups and citizens on complex issues, including off-highway vehicle and recreational trail access in northern Minnesota," Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, said in a statement making the announcement. "He has demonstrated outstanding leadership at every place he has worked within the agency."

Boe replaces Dave Epperly, former forestry director who was transferred last fall in an intra-department shakeup at the same time Bob Tomlinson, former assistant director, was transferred into the DNR's Division of Lands and Minerals. Landwehr said at the time that Epperly had done a good job but that "new blood" was needed in the division to oversee an increased workload with a smaller staff.

One of Boe's first jobs during and after college was operating his own forestry business, which included tree planting and management. The business was inspired by his father, a DNR forester for 39 years.

"I've had an interest in forestry my entire life," Boe said in a statement. "I look forward to working with our extremely talented forestry staff."

The state's forestry division turned 100 years old last year and now oversees 58 state forests that cover 4 million acres, much of that in Northeastern and north-central Minnesota. The division is the single-largest manager of timber land within the state, bigger than the U.S. Forest Service.

Boe said one of his main goals will be to balance needs of the forestry industry with the environmental aspects of forestry. Boe will oversee a $70 million annual budget and a staff of 350 employees. Nearly one-third of the trees used by the state's wood products industry come from DNR-managed lands.

"Forrest has always been extremely open with us," said Bob Krepps, director of St. Louis County's Lands and Minerals Department, who said he has worked with Boe for the past six years on parks and trails issues. "He has the personality to reach out."

Jack Rajala, owner of the Rajala Companies, a forest products company based in Bigfork, was among the panelists outside the DNR who interviewed candidates for the Forestry Division position.

"I was very impressed with Forrest," Rajala said. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm and knows a lot about natural resources. He likes to keep learning and facing new challenges."

Scott Dane, executive director of Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota, who also served on the interview panel, agreed Boe has been an excellent manager of personnel.

Boe began his DNR career in 1983 as a development specialist on the Root River Trail. In 1986, he became area supervisor for the Trails and Waterways Division in Brainerd. He became the division's regional manager working out of Bemidji in 2001 and division director in 2006. Boe earned a Bachelor of Science degree in natural-resource management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

State forest land has become popular for deer, grouse and bear hunters; birdwatchers; and ATV riders. But the land is primarily managed for cutting trees for the state's wood-products industry.

There has been little public attention paid to state forestry issues in recent years, but that hasn't always been the case. In the 1990s, a push for more tree-cutting for a growing number of mills created rifts between environmental and timber interests. Lawmakers intervened and paid for a landmark study of the entire state's forest resource -- an inventory of sorts that also looked at logging rates and the ecological consequences of logging at current and expected cutting rates.

In recent years, however, many mills have closed and the industry has downsized. The latest challenge for the state's forestry experts hasn't been too much demand, but too little. Cutting across all of the state dropped from a peak of 4.6 million cords in 2006 to just 2.7 million cords in 2010.

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