Proposed BWCA land exchange is a bad deal

During September of 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt unexpectedly (but prophetically) became America’s 26th president, and during his tenure as commander-in-chief, Roosevelt personally established the first 21 forest reserves. They evolved into the present-day 192 million-acre national forest system, which includes Minnesota’s Superior National Forest (SNF).

It has been over 100 years since TR signed Presidential Proclamation No. 848, establishing the SNF and laying the foundation for protecting the few unscathed stretches of Minnesota’s north woods, and at the heart of today’s SNF is the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) — one of the world’s 50 greatest destinations, according to National Geographic.

Ely resident and Boundary Waters Journal editor Stuart Osthoff wrote, “There are areas with more deer and areas with more top-end deer, but I contend the BWCAW is the highest-quality public land wilderness whitetail hunting in America.”

But public lands in the Superior National Forest and BWCA are currently at risk.  Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (HR 5544) would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade 86,000 acres of state land inside the BWCA for federal land outside the wilderness. The bill seeks to settle an issue that arose in 1978 when Congress drew the current boundaries for the BWCA and didn’t account for the state land within those boundaries.  Unfortunately, HR 5544 is a seriously flawed bill:

  •  It prioritizes parcels for exchange where a handful of mining companies would benefit.

  • It provides no protective measures for how the land may be used and no assurances that existing activities, like hunting and angling, would continue.

  • Losing 86,000 acres of public lands from the SNF is opposed by most hunters, anglers, and other outdoorsmen and women.

  • This bill seeks to bypass a state-level process already in place to address this issue.

Hybrid solution recommended

In 2009, the Permanent School Trust Advisory Committee created by the Minnesota Legislature recommended a hybrid solution, where one-third of the school trust lands would be exchanged, while two-thirds would be federally purchased. In 2010, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a resolution endorsing this hybrid approach, but common sense is less common in the current Minnesota Legislature.

Some politicians argue that school trust fund lands should be managed to maximize short-term revenues, but funds earned by these lands recently amounted to only $26 per student of the more than $5,000 the state gave in per-pupil aide to districts. Even if that number somehow doubled, trust land will never be a major source of education funding and would instead be a better legacy to leave untrammeled for future generations of Minnesotans.

According to Outdoor News editor Rob Drieslein, “Hunters have a vested interest, because we now have access to these properties — something that’s never guaranteed when management begins switching hands.” And on July 16, the Star Tribune’s editorial board wrote: “Cravaack’s bill, in present form, fails to include … assurances and fails the credibility test as well. This land swap isn’t about Minnesota’s hard-pressed schoolchildren. It’s about converting forest land to mining.”

Let members of Congress know

To help preserve our public lands and hunting-angling traditions in the Superior National Forest and BWCA for future generations, take a minute and (with a few mouse clicks) let your federal legislators know you’re a hunter/angler/outdoorsman or woman and you oppose HR 5544 (click on “Write All Your Federal Officials”).

Over 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed the Superior National Forest as a place “reserved from settlement” and “set apart as a public reservation, for the use and benefit of the people.” If HR 5544 passes, that will no longer be the case for 86,000 acres of public lands in the SNF.

David Lien is a Grand Rapids, Minn., native, two-time UMD graduate, a life member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), and founder/co-chair of the  Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

About Caitlin Thompson