In a move described as a win for public lands, timber and hunting land valued at just over $1 million is being donated to St. Louis County.
The land, nearly 1,600 acres across dozens of parcels acquired by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, is expected to be placed into the county’s forest management program and would be administered by the Land and Minerals Department.
The donation was well-received at a presentation Tuesday at the County Board’s committee of the whole meeting in Hermantown. The transfer of lands will require commissioners’ approval at their Oct. 22 meeting in McDavitt Township.
The county, the hunters association and a third-party conservation entity had been working for years to corral the deal. The parcels were chosen for being strategically connected to other county holdings, and will allow for preservation of forest habitat and water resources, as well as "provide hunting and recreational opportunities on lands that may not have remained open to the public," said a County Board letter describing the donation.
“We’re excited about this project,” Executive Director Craig Engwall, of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said to the commissioners. “It’s a good thing to prevent fragmentation for habitat and for wanting good timber access. A lot of this is about access … to get to other parcels, too.”
Commissioners were unanimous in advancing the project.
“This is a big deal,” Commissioner Keith Nelson said. “The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association is working with us on trying to consolidate interests out there so we can keep our proud heritage of public lands for access by hunters and for folks to enjoy.”
The 38 parcels come in mostly 40-acre lots across five townships and had been purchased by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association from Potlatch Corp. The $1 million total land value is based on county property details reports. The hunters association did not say how much it paid for the land.
County Land and Minerals Director Mark Weber said the land comes within “the middle of our wood basket,” and described the project as several years in the making as Potlatch began to divest itself of tens of thousands of acres of land in Northeastern Minnesota.
“Potlatch Corp. is getting out of the timber business, and most of those lands are up for sale,” Weber said. “(We) saw a need to cooperate with other landowners in the area to prevent parcelizations and the loss of that traditional land use.”
The parcels officially total 1,599 acres, and fall across five townships — Ault, Beatty, French, Independence and Unorganized Township 64-17, neighboring Beatty.
“We’ve worked together several years on this, and we’re very appreciative of the Deer Hunters Association for seeking funding, acquiring these parcels and wanting to donate them to St. Louis County for our forest management program,” Weber said.
Engwall said the land acquisition and donation process is a common practice for the hunters association, adding the group is “very selective” about the parcels it identifies for purchase.
“We reject parcels suited for development or where there are existing services,” he said.
County Administrator Kevin Gray called it “a win for public lands and a win for people that utilize public lands.”