Land swap involving School Trust Lands would be victory for Minnesota school children

By Denise Dittrich, MSBA Associate Director of Government Relations

Since 2009, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been working with the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee (PSFAC) and the U.S. Forest Service to develop a plan that will fully compensate the Permanent School Fund for the 86,000 acres of School Trust Lands locked in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

These efforts led to the 2010 Minnesota Legislature passing Resolution No. 1 (SF 2494), which recommends the sale and exchange of the School Trust Lands in the BWCAW with the U.S. Forest Service. This resolution recommends a hybrid model consisting of a one-third exchange for land outside the BWCAW and two-thirds land sale with the federal government.

The future of these lands has been discussed and debated for decades and each time we have come up empty-handed for the children of our state. To this day, there has been no compensation from the U. S. Forest Service to the trust for use of the 86,000 acres of school trust lands in the BWCAW. Each year we delay removing the School Trust Lands from the BWCAW means lost revenue for Minnesota schoolchildren. This is a violation of our trust obligations.

The Forest Service, with the help of the DNR and representatives from key advocacy groups such as Audubon MN and MSBA, has identified approximately 30,000 acres for exchange. This is a big step. The public weighed in earlier this year. Now the Forest Service will continue their due diligence by preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for this project. A draft of the EIS is expected to be published in early 2016. This is another big step. Never in 35-plus years of debating this issue have we come this far in removing the children’s trust interest from the BWCAW.

We applaud the work of the Forest Service and the DNR in pursuing this hybrid land sale/swap process. Completing this exchange and sale will provide additional education funding, create jobs and — most importantly — finally fulfill our trust obligations.

We feel the land swap provides a win-win solution to an ongoing issue. Swapping the trust lands with federally owned land outside the BWCAW honors the integrity of the pristine BWCAW, while the exchanged land has the potential to generate revenue for the trust fund and honors the fiduciary responsibilities of trust ownership. This is a matter of trust.

For more information about the School Trust Lands, please contact MSBA’s Denise Dittrich at ddittrich@mnmsba.org.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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