Land deal preserves forest

Nearly 10 square miles of forest in Lake County will remain undeveloped and open to logging and public recreation under a land preservation agreement announced Tuesday.

Nearly 10 square miles of forest in Lake County will remain undeveloped and open to logging and public recreation under a land preservation agreement announced Tuesday.

The land is considered important habitat for a variety of wildlife and bird species and includes the headwaters of the Manitou River, a prime trout stream.

Under the deal, announced Tuesday, about 6,252 acres north of Silver Bay will be protected by conservation easements -- meaning it can never be developed and will remain open to logging, hunting, hiking and other public access.

Lake County has become owner and manager of the land, while the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources purchased the conservation easements. The area will be formally known as the Clair A. Nelson Memorial Forest in honor of the former Lake County Board chairman who died a year ago.

Supporters say the deal helps keep a much larger area of mostly undeveloped land intact, noting its proximity to the Superior National Forest and nearby state forests and parks.


"The Manitou watershed is one of the most undeveloped in the entire Great Lakes. There are just so few roads and so little development up there,'' said Daryl Peterson, field representative for the Nature Conservancy. "This deal is going to help it stay that way.''

The agreement, which took two years to develop, was struck between the county, the Conservation Fund, Nature Conservancy, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Power and Wolfwood Corp., a private timberland owner that agreed to sell the land as one parcel. The county essentially purchased the land while the Nature Conservancy sold the easements to the DNR at a significant discount.

Another 246 acres is expected to be added to the forest in coming months in yet another easement deal in the works.

Similar conservation deals have been struck in Itasca and Koochiching counties in recent years. The effort is in response to hundreds of thousands of acres of privately owned forest that has been sold for development across northern Minnesota. Much of the land was once owned by giant timber companies that have sold the real estate to cash in on skyrocketing land values even as paper and wood prices stagnate.

The trend is considered a major problem facing the state's wood-products industry because the small tracts of land often become off-limits to logging, further constricting the state's timber supply.

The trend toward development also is considered bad for wildlife and water quality, as more large tracts of forest are fractured into smaller chunks of private land. Permanent roads and home construction often degrade wetlands and streams and force many species to move on.

The breakup and development of the northern forest also has kicked the public off what had been open hunting land, pushing more recreation use onto nearby public lands.

"Forest fragmentation threatens habitat, public recreation and the timber industry," said Mark Holsten, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner, in a statement. "Easement agreements such as this are an affordable way to address habitat issues and guarantee public recreational access, while continuing to provide timber that is critical to Minnesota's forest products industry."

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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