School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Details about the current status of the proposed School Trust Land Exchange are posted at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/Superior/SchoolTrustLandExchange  

BACKGROUND:

The USDA Forest Service (USFS) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are moving forward to resolve a long-standing land management dilemma involving approximately 83,000 acres of school trust lands located within the Boundary Waters Canoe AreaWilderness (BWCAW) on the Superior National Forest. If implemented, the outcome would provide funds to the Permanent School Fund, benefit local counties, and consolidate both State and federal ownership.

View of BWCAW in the springWhen Minnesota became a state, school trust lands were granted to the State by the federal government to provide a source of continued revenue for public schools. The State legislature established the Permanent School Fund Commission in 2012 to advise the DNR on school trust land management. State law directs that the goal is to “secure the maximum long-term economic return from school trust lands... with sound natural resource conservation and management principles[.]”(Minn. Stat.sec.127A.31). However, in the BWCAW, the State manages these lands consistent with wilderness regulation and does not generate receipts from activities such as timber harvest,mineral leasing, user fees or selling the land.

A transfer of school trust lands within the BWCAW to the USFS would resolve this land management issue. Over the years, options for transfer focused on either an exchange of all 83,000 acres or a purchase of the entire 83,000 acres. Interest groups have been polarized in their support of, or opposition to, either option. A polarized approach has not yielded a solution.

Now, after decades of controversy, there is momentum to resolve this conflict.

  • In 2010, the Legislature of the State of Minnesota affirmed a recommendation of the former Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee to pursue a “hybrid” model that would include a combination of sale and exchange of the school trust lands in the BWCAW. The Governor signed Resolution1-S.F.No. 2494 that same year.
  • The former Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee appointed a working group representing diverse interests to collaborate on specifics of the hybrid model.The working group consisted of individuals from the education community, mining industry, environmental interests, timber industry and county government, along with representatives from the DNR and USFS.  The working group identified candidate parcels of lands on the Superior National Forest outside the BWCAW for the exchange with a focus on isolated, scattered federal lands in areas of predominately State ownership.Their work was embraced by the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee.
  • The State passed legislation in 2012 based on the efforts of the working group. Minn. Stat.92.80 and 92.82 authorized the DNR to expedite a land exchange and also to sell school trust land in the BWCAW to the federal government.

The Forest Service and State are committed to the hybrid model as a collaboratively-designed solution to resolve the conflict, and are making significant progress.

  • In  August 2012, the State submitted a formal proposal to the Superior National Forest to exchange one third of the school trust land in the BWCAW for an equal value of federal land outside the BWCAW. The State would manage lands outside the wilderness to generate revenue for the Permanent School Fund.
  • The Superior National Forest conducted a preliminary evaluation of the State’s exchange proposal during 2013 and 2014. The Superior National Forest initiated environmental analysis of the proposed exchange component of the proposal in 2015, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.The public was invited to learn about this part of the proposed land transfer and to provide their comments. For additional details regarding the proposed land exchange, go to the "Project"  Page on this web site.
  • The purchase component of the hybrid model is underway. The USFS is actively pursuing funds.The proceeds from the purchase will be deposited in to the Permanent School Fund and be invested to generate annual revenues for Minnesota school districts.
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is funded by proceeds from federal off shore oil and gas leasing royalties. Congress appropriates these funds to purchase lands for the public benefit.  Every year since 2012, the Superior National Forest, in collaboration with federal agency partners, has submitted proposals for purchase of school trust lands in the BWCAW. Although the Superior National Forest and partner agencies have not yet received a grant through LWCF for this purpose, they plan to continue to pursue this funding opportunity along with other options to purchase the balance of school trust lands inside the BWCAW.