Bill will order BWCAW land exchangeU.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, said last Friday he will introduce legislation ordering the U.S. Forest Service to conduct a land exchange with the state of Minnesota for nearly 87,000 acres of state school trust fund land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, said last Friday he will introduce legislation ordering the U.S. Forest Service to conduct a land exchange with the state of Minnesota for nearly 87,000 acres of state school trust fund land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The land, which is dedicated to the state School Trust Fund, has been locked inside the 1.1 million acre federal wilderness since 1978, so the trust fund — which doles out money to school districts across the state — has not been receiving any money from logging sales or mining royalties.
State and federal officials have pursued a land swap in the past, and in recent weeks Superior National Forest and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials reached a tacit agreement on a land deal. Under the agreement, presented Friday to a legislative advisory committee, the federal government would buy 45,000 acres of the state land and trade federal land for the other 41,000 state acres in the BWCAW. Money for the purchase likely would come from a federal fund earmarked for only conservation purchases that’s stocked by oil well leases.
Environmental groups have been wary of any BWCAW deal, saying Superior Forest land outside the BWCAW would lose protection if traded to the state to be managed for logging and mining revenue instead of recreational or ecological values.
A spokesman for Cravaack said the legislation will “give considerable power to the governor to make a decision in the best interest of Minnesota and its students” in deciding how to carry the deal out.
A total land trade would substantially reduce the overall amount of federal land in the Superior Forest because the waterfront land inside the BWCAW is worth more than forested land outside. The land trade-only option was pursued more than a decade ago by some Iron Range lawmakers but was ultimately opposed by conservation groups and the Forest Service.
“This land ultimately belongs to Minnesota’s children — our public schools have been waiting decades for this funding,” Cravaack said in a statement last Friday.