School Trust Fund Lands



School Trust Lands

Within the BWCAW

Status: July 2014

The State of Minnesota and the USDA Forest Service are working together on a mutually beneficial strategy to transfer ownership of approximately 86,000 acres of currently designated school trust lands, located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) on the Superior National Forest, to federal ownership as part of a combined purchase and land exchange project.

The federal wilderness restrictions complicate the State’s ability to manage the lands for long-term economic return, which is the mandate of the School Trust.  For many years, the State of Minnesota and the Superior National Forest discussed different means to resolve the conflict.  Beginning in 2010, the Minnesota Legislature’s Permanent School Trust Fund Advisory Committee appointed a working group with a cross-section of interested stakeholders to develop and refine an acceptable strategy.  The resulting suggestion was to pursue a “hybrid model” of purchase and exchange.  The Forest Service would exchange federal lands outside the BWCAW for 1/3 of the school trust parcels within the BWCAW.  The Forest Service would purchase the remaining 2/3 of the school trust lands within the BWCAW.

The proposed federal purchase of school trust lands would mean monetary compensation to the school trust fund.  The Superior National Forest is actively pursuing funding to purchase approximately 60,000 acres of school trust lands. The purchase component includes acquisition of mineral interests.

The intent of the exchange is to allow the State to obtain land that is not limited by Wilderness designation and which may be managed to meet the objectives for school trust lands to generate revenue for the maintenance of public schools in Minnesota.  The exchange is of interest to the Forest Service because of the opportunity to consolidate ownership as well as to acquire nonfederal lands within the BWCAW. 

The working group that convened in 2010 collaborated through 2011 to identify parcels of national forest lands, located outside of the BWCAW, on the Superior National Forest as candidates for exchange to the State for school trust lands within the BWCAW.  The main Forest Service criteria was to select isolated, scattered federal ownership parcels in areas of predominately State ownership to achieve ownership patterns that lower resource management costs.  The following criteria also applied: 

  1. Retain federal land needed to protect and manage administratively or Congressionally designated, unique, proposed, or recommended areas;
  2. Avoid splitting federal surface from federal mineral estates particularly in areas of potential mineral development;
  3. Avoid high profile or controversial areas that would likely cause conflict if proposed;
  4. Avoid parcels identified as candidates in other proposed land exchange projects.

The information on the maps shown below was presented to the Advisory Committee on December 9, 2011.  The maps identify federal land candidates considered for potential exchange at this point in time.  

On April 27, 2012 the Governor of Minnesota signed an omnibus land bill that includes language to “expedite” a land exchange between the federal government and the State of Minnesota.  It also includes a provision for the State to sell any “surplus lands” in the BWCAW to the United States Government. 

In a letter dated August 22, 2012, the DNR formally proposed the exchange of school trust lands for USFS lands located within Superior National Forest. 

Initiating a land exchange requires a feasibility analysis of the proposal.  The feasibility analysis is a screening tool that evaluates whether the proposal supports the standards and guidelines of the Superior National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan.  The screening requires a preliminary review that addresses implications on threatened and endangered species, known cultural and historic resources, tribal issues, wetlands and floodplains, hazardous materials, and management efficiency associated with the proposal. 

The feasibility analysis for the School Trust land exchange was completed by an interdisciplinary team and submitted to the Regional Forester of the Eastern Region in May 2014.  Internal regional review is necessary before  the Forest Service may begin an environmental analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Such environmental analysis would include public scoping and an opportunity for public review, comment and objection.

 Below is a key map identifying detailed maps of candidate parcels.  At this time, the maps only represent the information provided to the Minnesota Legislature’s Permanent School Trust Advisory Committee in December 2011 and do not represent a proposed Forest Service project.   Determine which map you wish to see and click on the corresponding link below the map for the map of parcels in that section. 

Guide Map for BWCAW land exchange


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 School Trust Lands in the BWCAW