Final open house for BWCAW – School Trust Land exchange DEIS is Sept. 7

The third and final open house for the U.S. Forest Service’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for a proposed land exchange with the state of Minnesota is Thursday, Sept. 7. The open house will be held from 5 to 8 p.m., in the lobby at the Department of Natural Resources headquarters located at 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul. 

The state of Minnesota owns 83,000 acres of School Trust Lands located within the borders of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).  School Trust lands were granted by the federal government and set aside at the time of statehood for the purpose of generating income for Minnesota public schools. The 1964 Wilderness Act and 1978 establishment of the BWCAW boundary prohibited the state from generating income from those School Trust lands.

The proposed land exchange would trade about 31,000 acres of School Trust lands within the BWCAW, for an equal value of lands in the Superior National Forest outside the BWCAW. The remaining 52,000 acres of School Trust lands are proposed to be sold to the Forest Service at a later date, with revenue from that sale going to the state’s Permanent School Trust Fund and managed by the State Board of Investment. The current environmental review is focused on the proposed exchange, not the sale.

“The exchange is an important step forward in resolving a 40-year-old land management issue that has hindered the state’s ability to manage these lands as directed in the state constitution,” said Bob Meier, DNR assistant commissioner.

The proposed one-third land exchange and two-thirds purchase was the recommendation of a 2010 work group of diverse stakeholders appointed by the Minnesota Legislature’s Permanent School Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

“This land exchange is mutually beneficial for School Trust and the U.S. Forest Service,” said Aaron VandeLinde, School Trust Land director. “The Forest Service will increase its land holdings within the BWCAW to allow for more consistent management and divestment of scattered parcels of forest land, and the state will be able to fulfill its legal obligation to generate income from the acquired lands outside the BWCAW to support Minnesota’s public schools.”

Forest Service and DNR staff will be at the open house to answer questions. A copy of the draft EIS is posted on the project page of the Superior National Forest’s website. The Forest Service is accepting comments through Oct. 10.