Big changes could be coming for thousands of Minnesota deer hunters who climb into permanent stands each fall on state and county forest lands.

Forestry officials from the state and counties would like to get rid of those permanent stands — and allow hunters to use only portable stands.

The reason: The construction of permanent stands on public lands creates myriad problems, including the illegal cutting of shooting lanes and potential clashes between hunters who built the stands and other hunters who also have a right to use the land.

Construction of permanent stands often leads to more elaborate covered stands — “shacks on stilts” — which are illegal on state forest lands, said Craig Schmid, deputy director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forestry division. “We don’t know how many permanent stands are on state forest lands, but we expect there are thousands,” he said. The DNR manages 4.2 million acres of state forest lands, mostly in northern Minnesota.

Schmid announced the DNR’s proposal to tighten stand restrictions at the agency’s annual roundtable meetings held earlier this month in Brooklyn Park. The 41 people who attended his presentation and responded to a survey all supported the move.

“I haven’t received any responses from people supporting permanent stands,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns for foresters is the cutting of shooting lanes by hunters. Many of those tend to occur near permanent stands. A hunter may not think a couple of shooting lanes have much impact on the forest, but Schmid and others say that when you multiply those lost trees by thousands of hunters, it amounts to lots of lost timber — and revenue.

At one site in Aitkin County, more than eight acres on state land had been cut for shooting lanes, Schmid said. “That’s real dollars,” he said, noting that only portable stands are allowed on national forest lands.

Greg Bernu, Carlton County land commissioner, agrees the shooting lanes are a major problem.

“Permanent stands impact land management activities,” he said. Fifteen northern Minnesota counties manage 2.8 million acres. The loss of timber revenue from hunters cutting multiple shooting lanes is real, he said.

“My annual budget is $250,000, and we don’t get any tax money,” he said. Funding comes primarily from timber sales. Less timber means fewer dollars.

“We’d like to see a gradual move toward portable stands,” Bernu said.

He would like the DNR and counties to work with deer hunters to iron out specifics, and there are many to iron out.

“The biggest question is what is a portable stand,” Schmid said.

Current laws regulating permanent stands on state lands are fuzzy, and Schmid would like to see them clarified. “Structures” are currently prohibited by statute on state lands, but permanent deer stands aren’t expressly prohibited.

“The goal would be to move to [only] portable stands on state forest lands,” Schmid said. Those portable stands wouldn’t have to be removed daily, but likely would have to be removed by seasons’ end, he said.

Said Schmid: “No one wants to be the bad guy, being the deer stand police, but the reality is this is land we manage and we have a responsibility to do it,” he said.

More public input will be sought, and Schmid doesn’t expect any changes to occur until next year.