REGIONAL— A national nonprofit has taken the first step in a multi-year process to extract the state of Minnesota’s school trust lands from the federally-protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area …
REGIONAL— A national nonprofit has taken the first step in a multi-year process to extract the state of Minnesota’s school trust lands from the federally-protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Virginia-based Conservation Fund recently completed the purchase of 8,000 acres of high-value timber land in St. Louis County from a single landholder, which fund officials declined to identify.
The deal was part of a multi-party agreement reached in 2012 that will eventually secure more than 40,000 acres of timber land for the state’s school trust to replace those currently locked up in the BWCAW.
Under the agreement, the Conservation Fund is using its own resources to acquire the private land outside the wilderness. The state of Minnesota will exchange, in phases, an equal value of its school trust lands within the wilderness for the private lands acquired by the Fund. Finally, the Fund will sell the lands it acquires within the Boundary Waters to the U.S. Forest Service as funds are made available from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and other public or private sources.
Over time, the Conservation Fund expects to transfer ownership over more than 40,000 acres of private timber land in northeastern Minnesota to the state’s school trust in replacement of the roughly 83,000 acres of school trust lands located within the BWCAW. The remaining 43,000 acres will eventually be transferred through a direct land exchange between the state of Minnesota and the Forest Service.
The state school trust lands were effectively marooned by the 1978 Boundary Waters Wilderness Act, which created the 1.1 million-acre wilderness area. While the vast majority of the wilderness property is federally-owned, the state has long had scattered holdings within the area, most of it school trust land that the state’s constitution requires to produce revenue for the school trust. The trust currently provides about $35 per student to the state’s school districts, or about 0.3 percent of total funding that the state provides to schools.
Funding for the first phase of lands to be purchased by the U.S. Forest Service will come primarily from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with $4 million recently appropriated by the U.S. Congress for the project in the 2018 omnibus spending bill. Additional funding will be provided from Walmart’s and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Acres for America program.
Aaron Vande Linde, director of the Minnesota School Trust Lands, called the latest purchase “an historic milestone,” made possible by a broad partnership of state and federal agencies, non-profits and private industry. “On behalf of Minnesota K-12 public education students, I want to especially thank the Minnesota congressional delegation and Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission for their continued support of this project.”
This solution not only safeguards Minnesota’s prized Boundary Waters, but it also consolidates working forestlands outside the BWCAW, ensuring the forest products industry a sustainable wood basket and associated jobs.
“The Conservation Fund is a valuable partner helping the Forest Service implement the hybrid model of combined land exchange and purchase in the BWCAW,” said Connie Cummings, Superior Forest Supervisor.