The Nature Conservancy Acquires Superior National Forest Inholdings

More than 2,100 Climate-Resilient Acres Near Boundary Waters Protected

Aerial view of an undeveloped Minnesota lake within the Superior National Forest.
Northwoods Aerial view of an undeveloped Minnesota lake within the Superior National Forest. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

The Nature Conservancy announced today that it has acquired 2,110 acres near the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area comprising wild lakes, trout streams and large white pines and white spruce —all within the Superior National Forest.

The lands are located within a 30,000-acre block of largely intact and mature forest in Cook County on the edge of the Boundary Waters and they drain into the Temperance River, which flows into Lake Superior. 

The properties, the only private inholdings in this part of Superior National Forest, are considered highly complex and resilient under TNC’s new Resilient and Connected Network mapping tool, which was created to help identify and connect areas to give native plants and wildlife the best chance to survive in the face of climate change.  

Mike Freed, a retired forestry professor who resides in Minnesota, bought the land, which is located about 15 miles west of Tofte, Minnesota, back in 1994 when a land development company listed it for sale as sites for new cabins. 

The property is composed of 12 parcels encompassing 972 acres of wetlands, three miles of area streams, significant upland forest habitat and shoreline along a half dozen wild lakes.

Freed was particularly taken by its proximity to the Boundary Waters and its wild lakes. “This area is very important to the psyche and the emotional needs of a lot of people in Minnesota. I’ve been privileged to take care of this land and I want to pass it onto someone who can continue to care for it.”

Freed sold the property to TNC for significantly less than the appraised value. “I grew up on wild lakes in Minnesota. These places are rapidly disappearing. My gift to the people of Minnesota is 2,000 acres of wild land that will remain in some kind of conservation ownership. This is the gift that the people of Minnesota deserve.”

This acquisition will help maintain a large block of older and mostly closed canopy forest. Such patches of forests are climate-resilient and support wide-ranging mammals like moose and wolves, migratory songbirds as well as loons, eagles and ospreys.

“If we start punching holes in intact forests you create barriers for the movement of wildlife,” said Jim Manolis, forest conservation program director for TNC in Minnesota. “You need these large blocks of forest to give species that kind of opportunity.”

Protecting and restoring forests in Minnesota is also one of the best natural climate solutions available in the state to help tackle climate change. “Forests remove a lot of carbon from the atmosphere and are incredibly valuable for mitigating climate change,” Manolis said.

TNC will explore different alternatives for long-term conservation ownership and management of the property including holding onto select tracts to study and demonstrate how to best sustainably manage timber production in a changing climate.

“We are grateful to Mike Freed for protecting this land for so many years and entrusting us with its future,” said Ann Mulholland, who directs TNC’s work in Minnesota. “We will ensure that the Minnesotans, Tribes and visitors can continue to enjoy not only its natural beauty, but also the many benefits it provides including clean water and carbon storage.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories—37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners—we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.