Nearly 7,000 acres of undeveloped forest in southeastern Koochiching County will be permanently conserved under a deal announced Friday.
Under the $1.4 million effort, the land holding company Forest Capital Partners will continue to own and pay property taxes on the 6,966 acres. But the company sold conservation easements to the Nature Conservancy that will be held by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The easements prohibit the land from ever being developed and ensure that the land be left open to the public for hunting, fishing access, camping and other activities.
The land also must be managed under state sustainable forestry guidelines, and trees on the land will remain available for the state's wood products industry.
The new acreage is in addition to a 51,163-acre transaction completed in 2007 and a 76,249-acre transaction completed in 2010 with the same partners in the same area.
The new parcels include hardwood and boreal forests and wetlands along and near the Big Fork and Little Fork rivers, just west of the Nett Lake Ojibwe reservation. The deal keeps large tracts of forest "unfragmented," meaning it's not broken up into pieces and sold to private owners for homes or recreational cabins. Those large tracts of unbroken forest are considered essential for many species of wildlife, including wolves and bear, as well as birds such as northern goshawk, boreal owl and Neotropical migratory songbirds.
"Our partnership with the state of Minnesota provides a framework for helping meet community needs for jobs and revenues, while protecting public access for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities," said Craig Halla, region manager for Forest Capital Partners in International Falls. "It is a win-win for the environment and for our economy here in northern Minnesota."
Funding for the conservation easement was provided by the Nature Conservancy with the support of the Blandin Foundation. The transaction also included $2,500 of Legacy Amendment money provided through the state's Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Minnesota's forest conservation easement effort now has nearly 341,000 acres protected. The effort was called into question last year when Blandin Paper Co., owned by global paper giant UPM, received millions of dollars for conservation easements for its forest lands and then quickly filed to have its property taxes substantially reduced because the land was less valuable under the easements. That effort, still in state tax courts, drew criticism that the paper company was being greedy and misusing the easement process.
JOHN MYERS is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. The Bemidji Pioneer and the News Tribune are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.