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Pioneer Editorial: State saves forestland for future

Minnesota's pristine lakes and woods are seeing more and more development pressure, as quality of place becomes the top priority for people wishing to locate. The only problem is northern Minnesota could run out of such areas if efforts aren't made now to save some of those pristine areas for future generations of Minnesotans to enjoy.

Minnesota took a huge step forward as Gov. Tim Pawlenty, along with leaders of two conservation groups, on Wednesday announced a public/private partnership to create a conservation easement with up to 50,000 acres near Grand Rapids, in the George Washington and Koochiching state forests.

Under the arrangement, as much as $15 million in state and private funds will purchase a conservation easement, under which the landowner -- Boston-based timber investment firm Forest Capital Partners -- agrees in perpetuity to preserve the land for timber management, wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing. Key is that the agreement prevents the owner from subdividing the land -- a process becoming more and more common in northern Min-nesota as people from metro Minnesota seek their piece of northwoods heaven.

The deal, the largest of its kind in Minnesota, will allow the state Department of Natural Resources and the Trust for Public Land to maintain the property for logging and public access for camping, hiking and hunting. The landowner, however, will retain title to the property and pay property taxes. The effort first started last year as nearly 5,000 acres of Potlatch Corp. land near Brainerd was put into conservation easement status. Early this year, it was announced that 1,670 acres of hardwood forest south of Grand Rapids would be placed into conservation ease-ment with $1.5 million from the federal Forest Legacy Act program and the DNR.

The effort is possible through $7 million in bonding approved by the 2006 Legislature, supported by our area's legislators -- especially Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point. From that fund, about $5 million is targeted to Wednesday's deal which will be added to about $10 million in private funds, including the Blandin Foundation.

While the federal and state governments, along with the counties, hold large tracts of public land, nearly half of Minnesota's forests are privately owned. Much is in large tracts owned by timber companies who now are finding it more profitable to sell the land to be developed as subdivided retirement home and recreational cabin lots -- thus removing access to the public for the kinds of pristine outdoors recreation we like.

And with the sale of the land, deer hunters are finding more "No Trespassing" signs on lands formerly owned by timber companies and open to hunting.

It is important to note that these lands will be preserved for all Minnesotans to use -- not just fenced off as additional wilderness. Multiple use, including forest management for timber, is as important as saving habitat for birds and wild game. It's a legacy we all can embrace.