Four million dollars in federal funding to purchase Minnesota School Trust Lands located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) was included in the recently passed $1.3 trillion federal omnibus spending bill.
This historic milestone is part of a larger land deal that will finally see the U.S. Forest Service assume ownership of approximately 83,000 acres of School Trust Lands locked inside the Boundary Waters since 1978.
The BWCAW project began in earnest in August 2012 when the state formally proposed to exchange one-third of the school trust acres (approximately 30,000) for federal lands outside the BWCAW and sell the remaining two-thirds (53,000 acres) to the Forest Service. After unsuccessful attempts to obtain federal funds, the state-Forest Service project team created a partnership to spotlight this 50-year land management issue at the national level.
The partnership now includes Department of Natural Resources, Office of School Trust Lands, Superior National Forest, The Conservation Fund, and the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners, and has led to a revised approach known as the Private Forestland Exchange Alternative (aka “Plan B”). Plan B envisions Minnesota’s School Trust receiving valuable industrial timberland that it will manage for long-term revenue generation in exchange for its undevelopable BWCAW wilderness lands.
“This milestone evidences how successful we can be by working together in partnerships, across agencies, industries and non-profits organizations,” said Aaron Vande Linde, Director of the Office of School Trust Lands. “While we applaud this initial funding of $4 million, we also recognize that continued persistence will be necessary to ensure these transactions result in long-term benefits for Minnesota’s school trust beneficiaries. On behalf of Minnesota’s 850,000 K-12 students, I want to especially thank the state’s congressional delegation and Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission for their continued support of this critical project. ”
In parallel with the Private Forestland Exchange Alternative, the state and Superior National Forest continue to make progress on the 30,000-acre land exchange. Currently, the exchange project is undergoing a federal environmental review with an anticipated completion date and decision in December 2018.
About the Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands: The Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands was established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2012. This office advises the Governor, Executive Council, Land Exchange Board and Department of Natural Resources on school trust management activities, works on legislation to improve school trust assets, and develops long-range strategic plans to ensure the state’s school trust resources are optimally managed for current and future beneficiaries.