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Minnesota

The Upper Mississippi Forest Project


The Upper Mississippi Forest

Watch a slideshow of the Upper Mississippi Forest project and how conserving this working forest benefits both people and nature.

The Upper Mississippi Forest

Watch a video of the landmark project featuring Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.

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“The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment brought a lot of different interests together. Some people think of this alliance as unusual but fundamentally, we are all committed to conservation.”

Peggy Ladner
Director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota

A landmark effort to conserve more than 187,000 acres of Minnesota’s northern forests is one of the first and most significant accomplishments of the the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

The Upper Mississippi Forest project is the largest conservation effort ever undertaken by the state of Minnesota. The project conserves wildlife habitat, timber-related jobs and public access for outdoor recreation.

Combined with adjacent public forest lands, it creates a blanket of more than 4,000 square miles of uninterrupted forest habitat. Large unbroken forests are expected to better withstand the effects of climate change.

Most of the property is also located within the watershed of the Upper Mississippi River, which provides drinking water to millions of people including residents of Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud.

The project encompasses 60,000 acres of wetlands and more than 280 miles of shoreline along lakes, rivers and streams.

Keeping this land as a working forest preserves habitat for wolves, black bear, eagles, great gray owls, osprey, ruffed grouse, woodcock and neotropical migratory songbirds and other wildlife as well as rare plants including dragon’s mouth.

The project was recommended for funding by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and approved by the Legislature and then-Gov. Pawlenty.

Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment Credited

Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, called the Upper Mississippi Forest the signature project of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

“Minnesotans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment in November because they wanted to conserve our lakes, rivers, streams and forests and habitat for fish and wildlife,” Ladner said. “Keeping this land undeveloped and open for outdoor recreation is a remarkable achievement and one that likely would not have been possible without the amendment.”

The Conservancy played a crucial role in supporting the amendment and the Upper Mississippi Forest project, however, the key to success has been the partnership between hunters, anglers, business leaders, environmentalists and conservationists.

“The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment brought a lot of different interests together,” Ladner said. “Some people think of this alliance as unusual but fundamentally, we are all committed to conservation.”

It should be noted that the Conservation Fund played a leading role in the Upper Mississippi Forest project both by bringing in a large amount of private money and by helping negotiate the working forest conservation easement that will ensure the land is never subdivided or developed, regardless of who owns the land in the future.

Avoiding Forest Fragmentation

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed the agreement and holds the easement, which also guarantees permanent public access for outdoor recreation including hiking, birding, hunting and fishing. And it includes provisions that will ensure sustainable forestry, benefiting wildlife habitat.

The rapidly changing economics of the forest products industry is forcing an unparalleled change in ownership of the forests across the United States.

Traditionally, timber companies have held large tracts of land which they managed for timber. These lands are home to many wildlife species, and many have been available for public use, providing immense opportunities for outdoor recreation.

In recent years, The Nature Conservancy helped conserve large privately-owned forests elsewhere in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Conservancy joined forces with the Blandin Foundation in 2005 to create the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, a coalition of public and private partners working to develop innovative strategies to preserve the recreational, economic and ecological resources of the Minnesota’s Northwoods.

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