State and private money have been used to purchase working forest conservation easements on more than 51,160 acres of forest in Itasca and Koochiching counties.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says it's the single largest conservation project in Minnesota in a decade.
The $12 million investment prevents subdivision and development of almost 80 square miles of forest land while protecting jobs, preserving wildlife habitat and guaranteeing public access for outdoor recreation. The agreement to pursue easements on the land was first announced in 2006 by the Trust for Public Land, Forest Capital Partners, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy.
"A key aspect of this landmark agreement is that the land will continue to be managed for timber production and continue to provide jobs and revenue for local economies as private land," Pawlenty says. "It will be open to the public for a wide variety of uses, including hunting, hiking and fishing. Minnesotans have always taken great pride in our vast forests and this achievement is a testament to our long-term commitment to responsible stewardship of our heritage and future."
To purchase the conservation easement on 11,824 acres in Itasca County and 39,339 acres in Koochiching County, the DNR contributed $6.6 million through bond funds appropriated by the Minnesota Legislature in 2006. The Nature Conservancy also contributed $5.4 million via gifts from: the Blandin Foundation, $4.0 million; The Conservation Fund, $500,000; and a variety of other sources including the Surdna Foundation.
The newly-conserved lands are located near almost 440,000 acres of the Koochiching State Forest, George Washington State Forest, Myrtle Lake Peatland State Natural Area and Scenic State Park.
Because of its proximity to the two state forests, the project is being called the Koochiching-Washington Forest Legacy Project.
This is the second and largest project to be completed by the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, a public-private coalition created two years ago by The Nature Conservancy and the Blandin Foundation to help conserve Minnesota's Northwoods. The partnership's first project, known as Sugar Hills, was completed in May 2007 and ensured that 1,600 acres in Itasca County would remain a publicly-accessible working forest.
The partnership includes the Trust for Public Land, which facilitated the transaction in the latest Forest Legacy project between the landowner (Forest Capital Partners) and the state, and the DNR, which will hold and monitor the conservation easement. Additional partnership members are The Conservation Fund, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Forest Resources Council and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Forest Capital Partners is a private forest landowner that acquires and manages working forests across North America for long-term sustainability, including more than 290,000 acres in northern Minnesota. The company actively manages its forests under the sustainable forest management guidelines set forth by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®. Under the recently-completed voluntary agreement, Forest Capital Partners retains ownership as well as the right to continue to manage their land for timber production.