BWCAW land-swap bill passes House committee
Legislation that would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade 86,000 acres of state land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for federal land outside the wilderness passed the full House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday a...
Legislation that would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade 86,000 acres of state land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for federal land outside the wilderness passed the full House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday afternoon in Washington.
HR 5544, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, now goes on to the full House.
The bill seeks to settle an issue that arose in 1978 when Congress drew the current boundaries for the BWCAW and didn't account for the state land within those boundaries. Discussions often have occurred on how to solve the issue but have never before advanced this far.
Almost everyone agrees the issue needs to be resolved. But there's a deep chasm over how.
Cravaack's bill is supported by mining and timber interests in Minnesota as well as northern politicians who say the time is long past due to compensate Minnesota for land that's been essentially managed as part of the 1.1 million-acre federal wilderness for decades.
Because that land has been unavailable for logging or mining, it has contributed nothing to the state's permanent school trust fund that helps pay for K-12 education across the state.
But critics, especially conservation and environmental groups, say the bill is a thinly veiled effort to relax environmental protections on the 86,000 acres of land outside the BWCAW by moving it from federal to state control. They say that putting that forestland under the authority of the School Trust Fund means it will be managed intensively for revenue, such as timber harvest and mining, and not for ecological and recreation benefits.
Critics also have blasted a provision of the bill that exempts the land trade from federal environmental rules under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
The federal land likely to be part of the trade is north of the Iron Range, within the Superior National Forest, much of it in areas being considered for Minnesota's first-ever wave of copper mines.
Several groups support a compromise agreement that would see about 40 percent of the state land in the BWCAW traded and another 60 percent purchased by the federal government. Some say the school trust fund would be better off with cash for a land sale to the feds, much as school trust land sold in the southern half of the state earned cash for the fund.
Minnesota lawmakers in April passed legislation that would allow the land swap to occur. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the state legislation allowing the land deal on April 27, and the effort seems to be moving quickly after languishing for years.