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Boundary Waters land swap bill advances

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Legislation that would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade 86,000 acres of state land locked inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for federal land outside the wilderness passed the full House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday afternoon in Washington.

HR 5544, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, now goes on to the full House.

The bill seeks to settle an issue that arose in 1978 when Congress drew the current boundaries for the BWCAW and didn't account for the state land within those boundaries.

Cravaack's bill is supported by mining and timber interests as well as some politicians who say the time is long past due to compensate the state for land that's been managed as part of the 1.1 million-acre federal wilderness for decades.

Critics, especially conservation and environmental groups, say the bill is a thinly veiled effort to relax environmental protections on 86,000 acres of land outside the BWCAW by moving it from federal to state control.

Minnesota lawmakers in April passed legislation that would allow the land swap to occur. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the state legislation allowing the land deal April 27.