March 2008


Good news!

Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey was in Minnesota today to announce along with DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten that the Koochiching Koochiching Forest Legacy ProjectForest Legacy Project will receive nearly $3.5 million in federal dollars. This Phase II funding will be used towards adding roughly 38,000 acres to the initial 51,000 Forest Capital Partners easement closed in October 2007. A third phase is planned for 2009, bringing total acres of the Koochiching Forest Legacy Project to just under 128,000 acres – that’s close to 200 square miles!

Today’s Duluth News Tribune did a great job explaining the project and the concept of a working forest conservation easement:

Federal dollars will buy conservation easements in Koochiching, Itasca counties
BYDuluth News Tribune
March 31, 2008

Federal officials this morning will celebrate their installment of a public-private conservation effort to protect part of Minnesot’s north woods from development. Top U.S. Forest Service officials will be in St. Paul to herald a $3.5 million appropriation to buy conservation easements on undeveloped, privately-owned forest land in southern Koochiching and northern Itasca Counties.

It’s the second of three phases of the Koochiching Forest Legacy Program backed by state and federal agencies and private conservation groups in an effort to keep large tracts of contiguous forest from being sold, divided and developed.

The program has been praised for preserving the environmental benefits of undeveloped land, providing trees for local loggers and keeping land open to the public for hunting and hiking.

In December the News Tribune reported that the $3.5 million was included in Congress omnibus spending bill.

Last year the state sealed a deal to buy conservation easements on 51,163 acres in the area.

This year’s federal aid will add another 38,331 acres. The third phase is set for 2009 and will add another 38,300 acres.

When completed, some 127,794 acres ” nearly 200 square miles ” will be included in the project. Much of the land is in and near the Koochiching and George Washington state forests. It’s the largest such forest land conservation effort state history.

The forest parcels once were owned by Boise Cascade Corp. and were managed for decades as wild land to provide trees for the company’s mills. It now is owned by Forest Capital Partners which makes money by holding and selling land as a real estate investment to be developed.

Under the forest legacy program, Forest Capital Partners will be paid for the conservation easements. The company will continue to own the land and pay property taxes, but the state will hold the legally binding easements that prevent the land from being sold or developed.

The company will continue to manage the land for forestry and sell trees to be cut by loggers, providing continued wood for the region’s mills.

In addition, the land will remain open to public access like deer hunting, berry picking and hiking.

While northern Minnesota has large tracts of federal, state and county-managed public lands, half of the state’s forests are privately owned. That land is rapidly rising in value and is being sold for recreation and retirement homes at a breakneck pace.

Keeping large tracts of private forest undeveloped is considered a critical issue for many of the region’s wildlife, including birds, which tend to leave areas where new roads, homes and cabins are built. The private parcels in the program often help form connections or corridors to large public tracts.

In addition to the U.S. Forest Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Blandin Foundation, Conservation Fund and Trust for Public Land are involved in the effort with Forest Capital Partners.

Similar efforts to use conservation easements to keep forested private land undeveloped have been struck in Lake County, southern Itasca County near Grand Rapids and in Crow Wing County near Brainerd.

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Goal One for Blandin Foundation’s Public Policy & Engagement program is “Do No Harm” (a.k.a. watch out for unintended consequences!). That may seem like a low bar, but actually, it’s not. Especially when you’re talking about forest biomass harvesting.

Thanks to Minnesota’s new site-level harvest guidelines for forest biomass , Minnesota is well positioned to explore Seeing the Forest and the Trees the contributions that forest resources can make to achieving Governor Pawlenty’s ambitious “25×25” strategic goal – 25% of all types of Minnesota’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2025. What can be done to help ensure a Do No Harm outcome – and maybe even better than that! – for our forest-dependent communities, forest-based businesses and the forest resource itself?

To help create the best possible shot at optimizing benefits to our forested region from the Governor’s 25×25 vision, Blandin Foundation has agreed to convene a Forest Biomass Harvesting Stakeholder Forum. The first meeting will be held April 29. The purpose of the forum is to hear from on-the-ground practitioners who are actually doing forest biomass harvesting about what’s working (and what’s not). Forum participants also will explore what should or could be done to ensure a win-win-win outcome for utilities, forests, communities and forest-based businesses, all of which share an interest in implementation of sustainable forest management practices and a more energy independent future for our state.

For more information about the forum, email Mary Magnuson, memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org or call 218.327.8738.

In her article about the community forum to launch the new Itasca County Area Forest Legacy Fund, Grand Rapids Herald Review reporter Britta Arendt captured some of the sparky discussion that followed U of M Professor Mike Kilgore’s presentation on the threat of forest parcelization in the Itasca area. Do GenXers’ green consumer habits translate into a land conservation ethic? Britta quotes one community member as saying he thought his twenty-something daughters would be more likely to want to sell the family forest land to buy a Prius and solar panels than to inherit the land itself.

These hunches are empirically supported by new research conducted by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and the US Forest Service on what offspring of family forestland owners think about maintaining their family forestlands. The results, presented last fall to a VFVC audience by research author Catherine Mater, are alarming: many of these next-gen owners have had little involvement to date in the management of their family forest and express little interest in becoming more involved.

Clearly, figuring out Minnesota’s forestry hedgehog has to start with ensuring we’ve still got working forest landscapes left for GenXers and their children’s children to work, live, and play in.