Range lawmakers: Feds should pay for burned treesFive Iron Range lawmakers are asking state officials to file claims against the federal government for “lost resources” from the Pagami Creek fire.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Five Iron Range lawmakers are asking state officials to file claims against the federal government for “lost resources” from the Pagami Creek fire.
The lawmakers say some of the 93,459 acres that burned in the fire are technically owned by the state and that any value of any timber lost in the fire should be reimbursed.
It’s not clear how the value of the trees could be figured, however, since they could never be harvested for commercial use because they lie within a federal wilderness, off-limits to logging. But the lawmakers said that’s part of the problem, and they raised the old issue of what to do with nearly 100,000 acres of state-owned land locked inside the 1.1 million acre federal wilderness.
DFL Reps. Tom Anzelc of Balsam, Tom Rukavina of Pike Township, Dave Dill of Crane Lake and Carly Melin of Hibbing, along with Sen. Dave Tomassoni of Chisholm, said Tuesday the state is losing out on its land in the BWCAW.
“The state owns thousands of acres of forest land consumed by this fire. It is held in the school trust account, managed by the DNR, to benefit our kids and their education,” Anzelc said in a statement. “The fire destroyed this resource, and the U.S. Forest Service should be held accountable for its policies.”
An estimated 6,314 acres within the fire boundary are owned by the state, said Mark Van Every, Kawishiwi District ranger for the Superior National Forest. That includes many acres of water and swamp and many acres that did not burn, Van Every noted.
Of the state’s acreage inside the fire perimeter, 5,159 acres are inside the BWCAW boundary and 1,155 are outside, the Forest Service estimates, based on computer assisted mapping.
Members of the Iron Range delegation asked DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr to do an assessment of the state acreage lost to the wild fire and its economic value and asked State Attorney General Lori Swanson to file a claim.
“We have a responsibility to protect state assets, and the federal government should step up and pay for their intentional decision to let the fire burn,” said Rep. Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake. “We look forward to action by our Attorney General to redress this wrong.”
Melin said the fire is a reminder that the state is losing revenue on its lands locked-up in the BWCAW — it can’t be logged, sold or developed to earn money for the state school trust fund — and that the federal government should act, after years of informal negotiations, to buy or trade for the state land.
The issue was never fully dealt with when the current boundaries of the BWCAW were set by Congress in 1978, and Washington has never seemed eager to pay for buying the state land or exchanging other federal land for it.
Van Every said the Forest Service is nearing a deal with Lake County to acquire county lands within the BWCAW and has conducted or talked about similar deals with Cook and St. Louis counties and has had ongoing discussions with the state.
So far, only the Lake County deal has neared conclusion, Van Every noted.
The Pagami Creek fire started Aug. 18 with a lightning strike, smoldered for some time and then grew into an inferno on Sept. 12 during an extended drought and unusually hot, windy conditions. It has been quiet since then. The Forest Service has come under fire for not putting the fire out immediately. No one was hurt and no private property was burned in the fire, the first of more than 400 lightning fires in the BWCAW to escape the wilderness boundary.