photo by John Connelly

photo by John Connelly

Today I am delighted to share with VFVC Blog readers the news that Blandin Foundation Trustees have approved a $7 million grant to The Conservation Fund for the Upper Mississippi Forest project.

Full details are outlined in the news release below.

This action is in direct support of our VFVC objective to maintain Minnesota’s forest resource base and reduce losses caused by conversion, parcelization, and fragmentation of private lands and disposal of public lands. It aslo responds to the recognition by our partners including MFRC, MFRP and the Governor’s Task Force on Competitiveness of Minnesota’s Primary Forest Products Industry that fragmentation as the number one challenge to Minnesota’s forests.

News Release

Cathy Kennedy, The Conservation Fund, (612) 309-3951
Allison Rajala Ahcan, Blandin Foundation, (218) 259-2893


Donation Supports a Broad Effort to Keep Significant Expanse of Forest Intact; R.K. Mellon Foundation Also Commits $2 Million

Grand Rapids (April 1, 2009) – Demonstrating its commitment to strengthening Minnesota communities, the board of trustees of the Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation has approved a $7 million grant for the Upper Mississippi Forest project.

The grant will be made to The Conservation Fund, which is helping facilitate the transaction between Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the landowner, UPM/Blandin Paper Company. If the Minnesota Legislature approves the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council’s recommendations to fund the balance of the costs, the Upper Mississippi Forest conservation easement will become the largest public access recreational area in the state of Minnesota, protecting the land against forest fragmentation.

“The Upper Mississippi Forest conservation easement will help protect the jobs of more than 3,200 families who rely upon this land remaining a working forest for their livelihoods, and hundreds of others who make a living in related businesses,” said Jim Hoolihan, Blandin Foundation president.

“Plus, the conservation easement will keep nearly 188,000 acres of Minnesota’s North Woods open for enjoyment by all and permanently protect forest habitats, creating a legacy that will live forever. By helping to secure this forest heritage project, the Blandin Foundation underscores its roots and invests in a natural asset that will contribute to our region and our state forever.”

Earlier this month, the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council recommended $20 million for the Upper Mississippi Forest as the first of two years’ allocations of funds that will be generated under the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment, which was overwhelmingly approved by Minnesota voters in November 2008. The Minnesota Legislature is now considering the recommendations of the Council.

In addition to the Blandin Foundation gift, The Conservation Fund, which is helping negotiate the working forest easement, also announced a $2 million gift from the R. K. Mellon Foundation, bringing the total private contributions to $9 million.
“The Blandin Foundation’s commitment to the Upper Mississippi Forest project is the largest private donation for a conservation project ever made in this state,” said Tom Duffus, Upper Midwest Director of The Conservation Fund. “The Blandin Foundation and R.K. Mellon Foundation gifts create a true public-private funding base for this project that will significantly stretch public dollars and enable the Outdoor Heritage Fund to complete this purchase in a timely way and fund other worthy projects around the state.”

The Conservation Fund intends to re-grant the foundations’ contributions to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources when the DNR closes on the transaction with UPM, Duffus said. The DNR’s Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council application indicated some $48 million are needed for the Upper Mississippi Forest project.

At 187,277 acres, the Upper Mississippi Forest lands combine with adjacent county, state and federal lands to create more than 4,000 square miles of uninterrupted forest habitat. The forestlands lie primarily in Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis, Koochiching, Cass and Beltrami counties.

Owned and managed by UPM/Blandin Paper Company (unrelated to the foundation by a similar name), the forest project includes 60,000 acres of wetlands and more than 280 miles of lake and stream frontage. The proposed working forest conservation easement would be held and monitored by the DNR and would permit sustainable forest management and timber harvesting; public access for hiking, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities; and provide wildlife habitat protection. The project also will protect wetlands and water quality in the upper watershed and primary tributaries to the Mississippi River.

“The Conservation Fund’s work to bring private dollars to the table to move this project forward signifies the importance of conserving these forestlands for all to enjoy while maintaining the economic viability of the region,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. “The substantial gift by the Blandin Foundation demonstrates the foresight by local community leadership to leave this North Woods legacy for future generations.”

The Upper Mississippi Forest project is supported by statewide conservation, recreational and environmental organizations; and in the Grand Rapids area, some 20 business, local government and conservation entities have endorsed the Forest Legacy Program.

UPM Blandin Paper issued this statement about progress on the negotiations:

“UPM Blandin Paper is in serious discussions with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regarding a conservation easement project on UPM’s 188,000 acres of forest land in Minnesota. A successful project is one in which the parties can reach agreement on an acceptable easement, price and a schedule for timely closing. UPM Blandin Paper is committed to working on a solution that would require sustainable management of the property as it is today, regardless of who may own the property in the future.”

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About the Blandin Foundation
Based in Grand Rapids, Minn., the Blandin Foundation works to strengthen rural Minnesota communities, especially the Grand Rapids area, through grants, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives. http://www.blandinfoundation.org

About The Conservation Fund
The Conservation Fund is dedicated to advancing America’s land and water legacy. With our partners, we conserve land, train leaders and invest in conservation at home. Since 1985, we have helped protect more than 6 million acres, sustaining wild havens, working lands and vibrant communities. We’re a top-ranked conservation organization, effective and efficient. http://www.conservationfund.org


This is the first in a series of “Posts from the Road” from the Seeing the Forest AND the Trees productivity tour to Scandinavia. Today, we hear from Blandin Foundation board chair George Thompson.

As the sun rose Sunday morning over the Amsterdam airport, we’d been traveling for 18 hours and were settling into a four-hour layover before reaching Helsinki, our destination. Our group of 38 includes folks from many different perspectives, which already has made our year-long study together more interesting, and will surely make experiencing Scandinavia–my first trip ever to Europe–fascinating.

My thoughts turned to the committment of all these partners and to the words of Tom Duffus, with the Conservation Fund, who reminded the group, “This isn’t just the Foundation’s project, it’s up to all of us to turn this learning into action.”

Tom’s right! The Foundation’s role here is as catalyst. We have been privileged over the last year to serve as a convener for this important study and conversation of an issue that continues to be unresolved for Minnesota–how to make the most of an important rural asset, our forests. By one measure, the Finns produce twice as much timber from an acre than we do in Minnesota–imagine that for Minnesota. Of course our state is more complex, but clearly the days ahead will be stimulating.

Hello All:

What’s that old saying about success being 10% inspiration and 90% persperation?

With hard work and imagination, Julie Miedtke, UofM Forest Educator for Itasca County, has a knack for making success look like 100% inspiration and 100% fun – something she’s been doing for forest education programs long before she partnered with Vital Forests/Vital Communities to help launch Goods from the Woods.

I’m delighted to share the VFVC Blog tribune with Julie to bring you news of some fresh and relevant learning opportunities, timed to piggy-back on the 6th annual GFTW weekend, Sept 20 – 21. See details in Julie’s message, below, and see you at the Splash!

An Autumn Splash
Julie Miedtke University of Minnesota Extension-Itasca County

One lesson I learned many years ago in college is the value of bringing people together to share research, exchange results, information, ideas and ultimately building community. Our communications teacher professed the importance and value of learning, he likened the impacts of a workshop or a conference to throwing a rock into a lake. People attending the conference get the big splash receiving information first hand from presenters. From that initial splash the news and information ripples out into other groups, neighborhoods and communities. Conferences are valuable tool to share information and resources.

On September 19, 2008, the University of Minnesota, in collaboration with Blandin Foundation, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Itasca county Private Woodland Committee will be creating that “big splash” by sponsoring a conference for family forest landowners. It will take place in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The Up North and Living Green Conference offers over 20 classes on a wide variety of topics relevant to forestry and natural resources in the 21st century: Bears to Biomass, Carbon Credits to Climate Change, Taxes to Timber and more.

The goal of the conference is to disseminate resources information that will ultimately help landowners make wise decisions for their lands, and allow them to directly communicate with scientists, researchers and foresters. Landowners will be able to rub elbows with other landowner and learn from their peers. It is the hope and expectation of the conference organizers and sponsors that participants will, through the variety and quality of classes offered, find opportunity to avenues to foster their relationships with nature and enhance their ethic to care for the land.

For more information on the Up North and Living Green Conference can be found on the new website created for family forest landowners: http://MyMinnesotaWoods.org or phone conference coordinator Stephanie Kessler at 218-326-1130.

Dovetail Partners Inc. publishes reports addressing a wide range of topics and issues related to sustainable forestry, responsible materials, and responsible trade and consumption.

The Partners are currently collecting information to inform future decisions about making their reports more accessible. If you’ve ever read a Dovetail Report, or would like to provide input on their future direction, they want to hear from you.

Here’s the link to their short reader’s survey (short as in it’s 17 questions that can be easily answered by readers of any height): http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=DlnA_2bEjP_2bj4yhkOyRWrm9w_3d_3d

Dovetail Partners thanks you!