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Proposed BWCA land exchange is a bad deal

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Chip Cravaack puts public lands in the BWCA and Superior National Forest at risk.

During September of 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt unexpectedly (but prophetically) became America’s 26th president, and during his tenure as commander-in-chief, Roosevelt personally established the first 21 forest reserves. They evolved into the present-day 192 million-acre national forest system, which includes Minnesota’s Superior National Forest (SNF).

It has been over 100 years since TR signed Presidential Proclamation No. 848, establishing the SNF and laying the foundation for protecting the few unscathed stretches of Minnesota’s north woods, and at the heart of today’s SNF is the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) — one of the world’s 50 greatest destinations, according to National Geographic.

Ely resident and Boundary Waters Journal editor Stuart Osthoff wrote, “There are areas with more deer and areas with more top-end deer, but I contend the BWCAW is the highest-quality public land wilderness whitetail hunting in America.”

But public lands in the Superior National Forest and BWCA are currently at risk.  Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (HR 5544) would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade 86,000 acres of state land inside the BWCA for federal land outside the wilderness. The bill seeks to settle an issue that arose in 1978 when Congress drew the current boundaries for the BWCA and didn’t account for the state land within those boundaries.  Unfortunately, HR 5544 is a seriously flawed bill:

  •  It prioritizes parcels for exchange where a handful of mining companies would benefit.
  • It provides no protective measures for how the land may be used and no assurances that existing activities, like hunting and angling, would continue.
  • Losing 86,000 acres of public lands from the SNF is opposed by most hunters, anglers, and other outdoorsmen and women.
  • This bill seeks to bypass a state-level process already in place to address this issue.

Hybrid solution recommended

In 2009, the Permanent School Trust Advisory Committee created by the Minnesota Legislature recommended a hybrid solution, where one-third of the school trust lands would be exchanged, while two-thirds would be federally purchased. In 2010, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a resolution endorsing this hybrid approach, but common sense is less common in the current Minnesota Legislature.

Some politicians argue that school trust fund lands should be managed to maximize short-term revenues, but funds earned by these lands recently amounted to only $26 per student of the more than $5,000 the state gave in per-pupil aide to districts. Even if that number somehow doubled, trust land will never be a major source of education funding and would instead be a better legacy to leave untrammeled for future generations of Minnesotans.

According to Outdoor News editor Rob Drieslein, “Hunters have a vested interest, because we now have access to these properties — something that’s never guaranteed when management begins switching hands.” And on July 16, the Star Tribune’s editorial board wrote: “Cravaack’s bill, in present form, fails to include … assurances and fails the credibility test as well. This land swap isn’t about Minnesota’s hard-pressed schoolchildren. It’s about converting forest land to mining.”

Let members of Congress know

To help preserve our public lands and hunting-angling traditions in the Superior National Forest and BWCA for future generations, take a minute and (with a few mouse clicks) let your federal legislators know you’re a hunter/angler/outdoorsman or woman and you oppose HR 5544 (click on “Write All Your Federal Officials”).

Over 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed the Superior National Forest as a place “reserved from settlement” and “set apart as a public reservation, for the use and benefit of the people.” If HR 5544 passes, that will no longer be the case for 86,000 acres of public lands in the SNF.

David Lien is a Grand Rapids, Minn., native, two-time UMD graduate, a life member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), and founder/co-chair of the  Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.


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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by mark wallek on 09/04/2012 - 09:23 am.

    Where’s the payoff?

    Looks to me like the ones profiting from this, other than the mining companies, would be Cravaack. I wonder what sort of capital he’s working to acquire. One cannot call him a “representative” of the people, that much is certian.

  2. Submitted by Tom Miller on 09/05/2012 - 08:19 am.

    The Boundary Waters is the Boundary Waters and will remain a protected wilderness as long as common sense prevails. So it seems that the premise of the article, that the public would lose control of land within the Bounday Waters, is false.

    When the State of Minnesota was created, two square miles of land out of every 36 were granted to the State by the federal government to be held in trust for the benefit of school children. This is a legal obligation of the State, as trustee, to our children.

    School trust lands within the Boundary Waters wilderness cannot generate any income for children – and it is the State’s legal and moral obligation to do manage the lands to produce income. Swapping owneship of trust lands within the Boundary Waters for land outside doesn’t affect the wilderness in any way, but it does open up the very real possibility of increased revenue for children. If there are valuble minerals on the land outside the wilderness, they will be mined, no matter who owns the land. And it makes a much more sense that our children benefit than not.

    Our children are our most precious resource. Providing them with greater educational opportunities while continuing to product the Boundary Water makes sense all the way around.

  3. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 09/05/2012 - 08:41 pm.

    The great giveaway of Superior National Forest

    The idea that a land exchange is needed is a misconception. The Minnesota constitution states that the Permanent School Fund must be managed for maximum return, not that the land itself must produce income. The state lands within the BWCAW could be sold to the Federal government, with the money going directly to the PSF. Or a fee could be attached to BWCAW user permits with the money earmarked for the trust fund.
    We do not need to give up Superior National Forest, piece by piece. Current land exchange legislation doesn’t address the 100,000 acres of mineral rights of the state lands held within the BWCAW, leaving the door open for future exchange.
    Cravaack’s bill, based upon Minnesota SF 1750 language, includes the Mesabi Purchase Unit. This would benefit Twin Metals, Polymet, Teck Cominco, and Encampment Resources–all desposits in critically sensitive areas near the BWCAW or along Highway 1. Removing Federal protections removes Weeks Act prohibitions against open pit mining, Endangered Species Act protections, and National Environmental Policy Act requirements for environmental review and public input. How the Mesabi Purchase Unit got placed in SF 1750 is a mystery.
    The so-called hybrid land exchange is no solution. It was negotiated in private discussions by a stake holder committee with representatives of the mining and logging industries, as well as state agencies that have allowed the current taconite industry to pollute our air and water. The hybrid package does not address mineral rights and has not included public input. If passed in the U.S. Senate, a hybrid package would have to be reconciled with Cravaack’s bill, opening the door to inclusion of the Mesabi Purchase Unit.
    In addition, when mineral rights are owned by private mining interests, no money goes into the school trust fund. Land exchange legislation is a bad deal for the school children, but a terrific deal for multi-national mining companies anxious to exploit northeast Minnesota in order to extract our low-grade highly disseminated sulfide minerals.
    Call Franken and Klobuchar to oppose any kind of land exchange legislation.

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