Koochiching-Washington


While some Minnesota Forest Legacy Partners were in Ontario on the Canadian leg of the Seeing the Trees AND the Forest productivity tour, others gathered Thursday night at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis for the 15th annual Minnesota Environmental Initiative Award Ceremony. The Partnership won the Natural Resource Protection and Restoration award. Peggy Ladner of The Nature Conservancy accepted the award on behalf of the Partnership. A complete listing of nominees and winners is avaiable at MEI’s website.

Click here to listen to Blandin Foundation president and CEO Jim Hoolihan post-event podcast and learn more about the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership.

Minnesota Forest Legacy Partners at MEI Awards, 2008

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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.

Minnesota Forest Resources Council Executive Director Dave Zumeta told participants at a recent MFRC-landscape committee summit here in Grand Rapids that parcelization remains at the top of the list of forest policy challenges facing Minnesota.

VFVC blog readers surely are aware of the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, created to address this challenge. To date the Partnership has concluded two major easements, Sugar Hills and the Koochiching-Washington Forest Project.

Community celebrations of the new Kooch-Washington conservation easement in Grand Rapids on Feb 1-2 included a dinner to thank Forest Capital Partners, the landowner, and a 60 mile snowmobile ride through the industrial forestlands now in conservation easement under this agreement.

Forest Capital Partners recognitionKooch-Washington Legacy Project snowmobile ride

Meanwhile, across town from Dave and the MFRC meeting, community members braved the bitter cold and dark of an early January morning to learn about an innovative new family-scale opportunity to address the parcelization threat to forests in Itasca County. On behalf of her visionary Board of Directors, Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation (GRACF) Executive Director Wendy Roy described GRACF’s new Itasca County Area Forest Legacy Fund.

Inspired by the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, this new fund is GRACF Forest Legacy Fund designed as a tool to help family woodlot owners keep their private forestlands intact and build their own forest legacies for the future. The fund also will be used to raise awareness about the importance of forest stewardship. The GRACF will use the services of the Minnesota Land Trust to craft, monitor, and hold the easements in perpetuity. For more information, contact the fund at: info@gracf.org or 218/327-8855.