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School trust lands could be better managed without DNR, legislators say

Those pushing for new management say the DNR has an inherent conflict of interest.

Minnesota has 2.5 million acres of undeveloped land in 20 northern counties that are held in trust to raise money for education. It’s managed by the state DNR and there is more than $700 million in the fund.

But some legislators think the state land trust could be worth more if the DNR didn’t manage it, says a story in the Duluth News Tribune.

A bill to move control of the trust to another state agency has passed on committee in the state House.

The trust kicked out $55 million to K-12 in the past two-year budget cycle, or $26 per student.

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Those pushing for new management say the DNR has an inherent conflict of interest, because it traditionally cares about conservation, preservation and recreation, rather than maximizing income.

State Rep. Denise Dittrich, a DFLer from Champlin, wants more emphasis on logging, mining, land sales and trades and other development of trust land,  the story said.

But it’s complicated, the story notes:

Bob Krepps, director of the St. Louis County Department of Lands and Minerals, has served on the Legislature’s Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee for the past four years. Krepps said that, on paper, it appears DNR critics are correct — that the agency’s multiple responsibilities for natural resources preclude it from giving undivided attention to maximizing revenue to the trust.

But Krepps said it also makes no sense to have another entity managing the 2.5 million acres locked in the middle of DNR forest lands.

“We’ve already got state and county (forestry) trucks passing each other on the same road, and federal, now we’re going to add another color truck to the mix?” Krepps said.

So far, Gov. Mark Dayton has backed the DNR as the manager of trust land. But Dittrich says the state school boards association and the state’s teachers union are on board with the plan that would get more money for schools.