Boundary Waters Conservation to Benefit Minnesota Schools

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Solution to Resolve Decades-old Dispute in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Launches

The Conservation Fund's purchase of 8,000 acres is the first step in providing long-term revenue for public schools, expanding recreational access and preserving Minnesota's wood basket 

St. Louis County, Minn.—A multi-year effort is underway between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands, the U.S. Forest Service and The Conservation Fund that will significantly expand revenue for Minnesota’s 337 public school districts and eliminate the patchwork ownership within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The Conservation Fund’s recent purchase of 8,000 acres of forestland initiates the first phase of this effort.

Embraced by local governments, environmentalists, school districts, timber companies and communities, the project will secure more than 40,000 acres for sustainable timber harvesting and increased School Trust revenue, while protecting 50,000 acres within Superior National Forest’s BWCAW for enhanced hiking, canoeing, camping and fishing opportunities.

The establishment of the BWCAW in 1978 locked in 83,000 acres of School Trust lands, causing land management issues for both the State and the U.S. Forest Service. The ongoing effort is a unique solution, called the “Plan B: Private Forestland Alternative,” that will implement a portion of the Minnesota Legislature’s visionary “hybrid model” approved in 2012 by incorporating two-thirds of the School Trust lands into the BWCAW through land purchases. The remaining acres will be added through a separate exchange between the state and U.S. Forest Service.

Contingent on a Memorandum of Agreement with the DNR, Plan B involves a three-step process in which:

1.      The Conservation Fund will use its own funds to purchase high value private forestlands held by a single company, located throughout northeastern Minnesota;

2.      The State of Minnesota will exchange, in phases, the School Trust lands it owns within the BWCAW for equally valued forestlands acquired by the Fund; and finally

3.      The Conservation Fund will sell, in phases, the former school trust lands to the U.S. Forest Service for incorporation into the BWCAW using funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and other public and private sources.   

“This is essentially the beginning of a new era when the state’s public schools will be able to finally obtain financial support from what was previously a non-performing asset,” said Steve Hobbs, Minnesota State Director for The Conservation Fund. “Additionally, the Boundary Waters, so treasured by Minnesotans, will no longer have scattered and unprotected land and waters that threaten its integrity as one of the world’s last great wild places. We thank U.S. Senators Klobuchar and Smith and U.S. Representatives Nolan and McCollum for their leadership in support of this important project.”  

Congressional funding provided in the recently-passed federal omnibus bill allows the Forest Service to fulfill their obligation to the School Trust Fund,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “The sale—via the Plan B option—and the ongoing exchange DNR is promoting through the federal process will ensure that management of school trust lands for revenue generation is achieved.”

“The BWCAW project reached an historic milestone with The Conservation Fund’s first acquisition and a $4 million federal appropriation to initiate the multi-phase Plan B,” said Aaron Vande Linde, Director of Minnesota School Trust Lands. “Together, these demonstrate how successful we can be by working together in partnerships, across agencies, non-profits organizations 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.”

The fragmented ownership of northern Minnesota makes holistic management for timber production and habitat conservation difficult. Plan B consolidates the ownership of productive forestland outside Superior National Forest while protecting the iconic wilderness of the BWCAW. Ultimately, this effort will enable the federal government to fulfil its commitment to acquire the School Trust lands.

“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. “With Plan B, all stakeholders involved were able to strike a compromise. With their support, the Forest successfully obtained Land and Water Conservation Funds to initiate the first phase of the land purchase, while concurrently completing the exchange portion of the project.”

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 (LWCF), with $4 million recently appropriated by the U.S. Congress in the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill for the project. Additional funding will be provided from Walmart’s and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Acres for America program.

LWCF is a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to acquire critical lands and protect our country’s best natural resources. LWCF is annually funded by the U.S. Congress, including Minnesota’s U.S. Congressional delegation: U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator Tina Smith and U.S. Representatives Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson, Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer, and Jason Lewis. As America's most important conservation and recreation program, the LWCF will expire on September 30 unless Congress acts to reauthorize.

“This land purchase is the down payment on our commitment to finally move Minnesota’s school trust lands outside of the iconic wilderness of the Boundary Waters. Projects like this are possible because of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and I am proud to be a leader in the fight for robust federal funding and a permanent reauthorization for the LWCF,” said Representative McCollum.

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. Local leaders agree that the Plan B approach best serves the varied, and sometimes conflicting, interests in their communities.

“We’re excited that after more than 50 years we are finally moving forward,” said St. Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell. “This is a compromise made to best serve kids statewide, as well as the communities around the BWCAW.”

Spanning more than 1.1 million acres in northeastern Minnesota, the BWCAW is an outdoor lover’s paradise offering over 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 11 hiking trails and 2,000 designated campsites.

Prominent wilderness advocate and local resident Becky Rom added, “The BWCAW is the nation’s most-visited Wilderness and is recognized as the world’s greatest protected canoe country. Consolidation of federal ownership within the BWCAW ensures that generations to come will continue to experience the singing of the Wilderness.”
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