LAND & PROPERTYTax Forfeit-Fee LandsPrescriptive Easements   

County Forest Road Easement Project

In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature passed Minnesota Statutes, Section 89.715, enabling the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (commissioner) to claim prescriptive rights on long-used Forest Roads via an expedited process. The Statute states that the commissioner may adopt a recorded state forest road map to record the department's state forest road prescriptive easements. Minnesota Statutes, Section 282.041, authorizes the County Board to record county forest road prescriptive easements on state tax forfeited lands according to Section 89.715. The county must set a time, place, and date for a public hearing on adopting the forest road map.

Traditionally, in St. Louis County, state managed lands have been intertwined with those of other natural resources administrators, primarily other governmental agencies and large timber companies. The roads that run through this mixture of land ownerships were built many years ago, some date back to the 1920’s and 30’s, and were often managed cooperatively by all who used them. Now, a significant number of parcels of land owned by those large timber companies are being sold to private individuals, who may not have an interest in keeping them open to the DNR, St. Louis County and other land managing agencies. Sometimes those citizens attempt to close these roads, causing the DNR and county to engage in costly and time-consuming litigation to maintain their rights in the roads systems they have built and maintained for all these years. Recording the DNR’s and county’s prescriptive easements will ensure that these roads will be available to the state’s land managers in perpetuity, so they can continue to provide the county’s citizens with high quality land management practices.

Prescriptive easements are the right to use another person’s property acquired by continuous usage of that property. They are similar to adverse possession; however, in adverse possession the interest is of full fee ownership, in prescriptive easements the interest is of some lesser rights. The state and county forest roads that are involved in this project have been in existence and have been maintained and used by the DNR and county for many years. There will be no change in the management of these roads due to the Prescriptive Easement process. Therefore, there is no anticipated change in value to the affected landowners. Additionally, these landowners will not incur any new liability for any incidents related to the use of these roads.

Prescriptive Easement Requirements

A prescriptive easement (44kb PDF) is created by an actual, open, continuous, exclusive, and adverse use of another's property for a statutory period of fifteen years.

  • "Actual" means the use occurred, rather than being planned or threatened
  • "Open" means the use is known to the owner
  • "Adverse" means the use is without the owner’s expressed permission
  • "Exclusive" means used only by the individual or entity claiming the rights
  • "Continuous" means it occurs on a regular basis.*

*Note: In rural or undeveloped areas, occasional and sporadic use may give rise to a prescriptive easement. The exact definition of this varies somewhat based on the nature of the use and what constituted a "continuous use" would ultimately be determined in a court of law. In 1999 case State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources, Appellant, vs. Transport Designs, Inc., Respondent, Ray Riihiluoma, et al., Intervenors. Files No. C497370 (32kb PDF) ruled on the definition of "continuity".