BWCAW land swap deal goes to committeeA committee that advises the Minnesota Legislature on how to manage school trust fund lands will get its first look today at a preliminary deal trading away state land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
A committee that advises the Minnesota Legislature on how to manage school trust fund lands will get its first look today at a preliminary deal trading away state land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will present the land swap/purchase deal to the Legislature’s Permanent School Trust Fund Advisory Committee, composed of lawmakers and other land managers, on how to handle nearly 87,000 acres of state land locked inside the 1.1 million-acre BWCAW.
The deal, first reported last month in the News Tribune, is being heralded by some as a fair way to end decades of acrimony over state land tied up in the federal wilderness.
“We’ve got reason for hope now. We’ve never had a list of parcels that we agreed on before this,” said Larry Kramka, director of the DNR’s division of lands and minerals.
But others say the agreement might threaten sensitive lands outside the wilderness that now would be managed for school trust-fund revenues — such as mining and logging — rather than for the ecological benefits favored under Forest Service control.
“Many of the parcels of federal land identified to trade to the state have been classified as having significant ecological value or rare resources,” said Betsy Daub, policy director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters group. “Putting that land under school trust management to become a revenue-producing mine or timber source doesn’t necessarily fit well with ‘significant ecological value.’ ”
The advisory committee has no authority, but makes recommendations to lawmakers. Any deal must work its way through the Legislature and get money from Congress, which could take months, if not years.
The deal also would need special legislation to avoid a costly and time-consuming appraisal and to avoid a public auction, now required to sell state most state land, Kramka noted.
“We’re not close yet to identifying specific parcels. We still have a lot of work to do between the agencies,” Kramka said. Today’s presentation “is just updating the advisory committee on where we are.”
The package was negotiated by DNR and Superior National Forest officials with input from environmental groups, logging and mining interests and local government land managers. The parties met quietly over the past year to forge the compromise on a combination land trade and purchase.
Under the deal, the state would trade about 41,000 acres inside the BWCAW for Superior National Forest federal land outside the wilderness. The state land became locked inside the federal wilderness after Congress drew the most recent boundaries of the BWCAW in 1978.
The federal government also would purchase 45,000 or so acres of state land in the BWCAW directly from the state. The money — estimated at between $80 million and $100 million — would go into the state’s permanent school trust fund that funnels interest earned to school districts across the state.
Federal money to buy the state land probably would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that’s stocked with federal royalties from off-shore oil drilling.
Identifying parcels outside the BWCAW for a trade that all sides could agree on has been the key issue, members have said. Much of the federal land being considered for the trade is at the western, southern and eastern edges of the sprawling 2 million-acre Superior forest.
Some opponents of copper mining in the region saying some of the land is in areas of high interest for mining companies.
Indeed, one of the criterion that DNR negotiators asked for is to receive National Forest land that already has mineral rights owned by the state. That reconnection of surface and mineral ownership would make the land easier to open for mining and remove any federal review from the mining proposals.
Any public input on the debate will have to wait for future legislative hearings.
“I think a lot of people would just as soon see no deal done at all. But it if has to be done, a lot of people would rather skip the trade and do an outright purchase,” Daub said, noting that would put more money but less land under school trust control.