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Federal Purchase of School Trust Lands in the BWCAW

BWCA entry sign
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands (OSTL), and the United States Forest Service - Superior National Forest (Forest Service) are working together on a strategy to transfer to federal ownership approximately 80,000 acres of school trust lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Under the new proposal, the federal government would purchase approximately 80,000 acres of Minnesota school trust land inside the BWCAW. The new proposal supplants a previously planned land exchange of approximately 30,000 acres between the Forest Service and the State of Minnesota and an additional exchange of approximately 50,000 acres between the State of Minnesota and The Conservation Fund (TCF).
The state's school trust lands provide a consistent revenue stream for the Permanent School Fund through activities including mining, timber sales, and real estate transactions. However, the 1964 Wilderness Act and subsequent passage of the 1978 BWCAW Act significantly limited the state’s ability to use the 80,000 acres confined in the BWCAW to generate revenue for Minnesota’s public education system.
The new proposal will:
  • Secure the maximum long-term economic return from school trust lands that cannot currently be managed for revenue generation.
  • Consolidate federal ownership of lands within the BWCAW through the acquisition of state-owned school trust parcels.
  • Address Tribal government concerns that a land exchange would result in a loss of federal lands outside the BWCAW where tribal members could practice treaty rights.

Project History

In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature affirmed a recommendation of the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee (now known as the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission) to pursue a “hybrid model” that would have included a combination of sale and exchange of the school trust lands in the BWCAW. The hybrid model called for one-third of the school trust lands to be exchanged for equally valued federal lands outside the BWCAW. In 2012 former Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation to expedite this approach (Minnesota Statutes sections 92.80 and 92.82), and DNR formally proposed a land exchange consistent with this collaborative framework and legislation.

The hybrid model also envisioned the Forest Service purchasing the remaining two-thirds of school trust lands in the BWCAW. Due to a lack of federal appropriations for the federal purchase, the State of Minnesota and the Forest Service sought a partnership with The Conservation Fund (TCF). This partnership envisioned TCF acquiring industrial timberlands to exchange for the school trust lands located within the BWCAW. TCF would have then sold the former school trust lands to the Forest Service.

After the Forest Service received considerable input opposing a land exchange, DNR withdrew its 2012 land exchange proposal. The Forest Service then canceled the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the original exchange proposal in a notice published in the Federal Register on July 12, 2024.

Future Project Activities

Condemnation: OSTL will work with DNR to initiate a condemnation action of the school trust lands within the BWCAW. Condemnation is a legal proceeding that includes an independent appraisal to ensure the Permanent School Fund receives fair market value for the lands, as required by state law. When the condemnation process is complete the state can legally sell the lands directly to the Forest Service. 

Scoping for Purchase Proposal: The Forest Service anticipates initiating scoping of the purchase proposal within a few weeks after the Federal Register Notice cancelling the EIS is published. The scoping notice and package will be published on the Superior National Forest website. Upon publication of the scoping package, the public is encouraged to submit comments regarding the new proposed action.

Land Purchase: The Forest Service will purchase the lands using a federal appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF is funded by proceeds from federal offshore oil and gas leasing royalties. Congress appropriates these funds to purchase lands for the public benefit.

Deposit into the Permanent School Fund: Following the federal acquisition, DNR will deposit the sale proceeds into the Permanent School Fund for investment by the State Board of Investment.

Project Timeline

The land transfer between the state and the U.S. Forest Service is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2026. This web page will be regularly updated when new information is available.

Forest Service Project Page   DNR Project Page   Project Map

Information on this page last updated 07/12/24.

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