Outdoors panel considers forest plan

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators are considering spending millions of dollars to keep 187,227 acres of northern Minnesota state forests the same as they are today.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators are considering spending millions of dollars to keep 187,227 acres of northern Minnesota state forests the same as they are today.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said Monday.

But legislators need to approve spending the money, estimated for the time being at $50 million. The state would not buy the land, but the funds would allow the public to use the land as now occurs - for everything from bicycling to hunting.

Logging would be allowed to continue on the land - in Itasca, St. Louis, Koochiching and Aitkin counties - but development for homes and businesses would be banned.

Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said the proposal also would keep the private landowner paying taxes to the state and local governments.


The proposal is to use funds from a sales tax increase that Minnesota voters last year approved for outdoors and arts projects. A legislator-citizen council recommends to lawmakers how to spend the funds, and that council now is considering the forest plan.

The property is owned by Finland-based UPM-Kymmene. The company owns Blandin paper mill in Grand Rapids, which along with 16 other paper mills uses logs from the land.

If approved, the project would get a bulk of the $70 million available from the sales tax increased this year, but about $300 million in projects have been requested.

Saxhaug said "fragmentation" of northern Minnesota's forests is hurting existing uses as plots of land now open to the public are being sold off piecemeal and often closed to the public.

The proposal would keep open more land than is in the entire state parks system, according to Executive Director Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

"It allows continuity," he said.

Dick Peterson of the Department of Natural Resources said that negotiations with the land's owner are continuing. While the state used $50 million as a "placeholder" for the cost, Peterson said, no price agreement has been reached.

Minncor audited


Minnesota's prison industry, Minncor, received mixed reviews Monday from the legislative auditor.

The audit said that the firm, which manufactures a variety of goods for governments, "has been successful in maintaining high levels of inmate employment and generating enough revenue to cover its costs."

However, the audit says that Minncor needs to do a better job of bookkeeping, including reporting "its full cost for inmate wages and the amount it receives from (Corrections Department) for inmates' confinement costs in its annual financial statements and reports."

The audit also suggests stricter management and Minncor should develop a state-mandated marketing plan.

Some Democrats said the audit is a sign that the Pawlenty administration is doing a poor job of management.

"Whenever the warden lets his guard down, the prisoners find a way out," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL - Golden Valley. "Unfortunately, Minnesota's governor is focused on higher office, while millions of dollars escape from state coffers every year."

Winkler has introduced several bills to increase legislative oversight of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's agencies.

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