Forest Service pitches swap with state to acquire BWCA land

School trust land
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The Superior National Forest wants to trade U.S. Forest Service land for 30,000 acres of state-owned land inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

When the BWCA was created, 83,000 acres of Minnesota School Trust land was trapped inside the wilderness. Minnesota is supposed to generate revenue from that land to help fund schools, mainly through logging and mining.

"For the Forest Service, of course we're pleased with the idea of being able to acquire more lands inside the wilderness. That really helps our wilderness management," said Kris Reichenbach of the Superior National Forest.

For decades the two sides struggled to reach a deal. Minnesota lawmakers have preferred a swap.  

But environmental groups oppose the deal. They say turning land over to the state would result in too much logging and mining.

"We don't think that the Superior National Forest should shrink by 30,000 acres," said Aaron Klemz, spokesman for Friends of the Boundary Waters. "Much of the land being proposed for this land exchange is managed to provide recreation opportunities like hunting and fishing. It contains over 6,000 acres of high or outstanding biological diversity."

Forest Service staffer Reichenbach said the proposed land trade is the first step in a process that will also include a federal purchase of state lands. But she says that funding has not been allocated.

The Forest Service is accepting comments on the proposal through April 3. The project will then go through an environmental review process.

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