Land exchange needs history lesson
The proposed BWCA land exchange is out for comment and if history is an indicator, don’t expect this version to get very far.
The Forest Service would acquire 30,000 acres of state land in the BWCA in exchange for 984 parcels of federal land totaling approximately 39,074.65 acres scattered throughout Cook, Lake and Saint Louis Counties outside the BWCA.
Already groups like the Friends have come out opposed to any land exchange. They want the feds to buy the state land.
This portion of the project is only the first step in this attempt to right a wrong. There is a total of 83,000 acres of school trust land that was taken into the BWCA where it doesn’t generate a dime for the state’s school trust fund.
The land exchange documents acknowledge this, “The State’s mandate for School Trust lands is to manage them on behalf of the Permanent School Trust Fund to support public education… The intent of this School Trust-BWCAW project is to convey lands without wilderness restrictions to the State so that it may fulfill its mandate on School Trust lands.”
Let’s go back to the 1964 Wilderness Act where these issues were directly addressed:
STATE AND PRIVATE LANDS WITHIN WILDERNESS AREAS
SECTION 5. (a) In any case where State-owned or privately owned land is completely surrounded by national forest lands within areas designated by this Act as wilderness, such State or private owners shall be given such rights as may be necessary to assure adequate access to such State-owned or privately owned land by such State or private owner and their successors in interest, or the State-owned land or privately owned land shall be exchanged for federally owned land in the same State of approximately equal value under authorities available to the Secretary of Agriculture.
So according to federal law, there cannot be a sale, only an exchange. Strangely enough, the state has a law on the books passed in 2012 that allows for the state to sell land in the BWCA to the feds:
The land that may be sold is state-owned land under the control of the commissioner of natural resources and located within the boundary of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties. The state-owned lands may include the state land for which the school trust interest was extinguished through condemnation, university lands granted to the state by acts of Congress, and all other lands acquired by the state in any manner and under the control of the commissioner of natural resources.
So there’s already a state of confusion over what is legal and how this can happen. What we do know is that as of today, there is no money available to purchase 83,000 acres of state-owned land. And we believe federal law trumps state law.
We also know that for decades this land has generated zero dollars for the school trust fund account. That’s a wrong that needs to be righted. A land exchange will give the state the ability to generate long-term revenues from lands outside the BWCA. A one-time purchase price ignores the history of lost revenues to the State of Minnesota.
If this exchange is ever to happen, there needs to be a recognition of the past. We also have concerns about the state’s ability to manage fish and game inside the BWCA. Without any state land, will the feds flex their muscle and ban hunting as is the case in national parks? We certainly hope not.
This proposal has a long way to go before it becomes a done deal. We encourage people to submit their comments on the proposal to the Forest Service during the comment period, which ends on April 3. There will also be an open house on the project at the Kawishiwi Ranger State on March 23 from 4-7 p.m.