“It’s the last great land rush,” was the way one long-time Lake Vermilion-area resident described it in a 2005 story in the Star Tribune.
Large swaths of Minnesota’s Northwoods, owned for generations by paper companies, were being sold, subdivided into smaller pieces and often resold for development. Between 1998 and 2005, more than 400,000 acres of industrial forestland in northern Minnesota changed hands.
“It was a real wake-up call,” said Peggy Ladner, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s work in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. “The many benefits we derive from our forests — wood products and jobs, clean air and water, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities — were at risk, and we had to do something. So with Blandin Foundation, we formed the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership.”
The Partnership completed its final transaction in 2012, wrapping up a conservation effort that protected more than 330,000 acres of industrial forestland in northern Minnesota, far exceeding its initial goal of 75,000 acres.
Formed in 2005 with a lead grant of $6.25 million from Blandin Foundation, the Partnership worked with industrial landowners to purchase working forest conservation easements. The easements keep the land in private hands and on the tax rolls while ensuring it is harvested sustainably for timber and remains open to the public for recreation. An additional 6,977 acres were protected in fee, and the Partnership raised $22.85 in private funds and $56 million in state and federal grants to finance the conservation effort.
One of the highlights was the Upper Mississippi Forest project, the largest conservation effort in state history and a signature project of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. With support from the Partnership, The Conservation Fund and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources negotiated an easement that protected 187,000 acres of working forestland in northern Minnesota.
The working forests protected by the Partnership not only provide forest products and good-paying jobs they contain miles of undeveloped lake and river shoreline, hundreds of acres of wetlands and hiking, cross-country and snowmobile trails; all of which contribute to our quality of life and tourism economy.
Another great example is the Koochiching-Washington Forest Legacy project, which protected more than 51,000 acres in and near Koochiching State Forest and George Washington State Forest. The project preserved public access for outdoor recreation including to an existing snowmobile trail, #147, near Effie, Minnesota.
“One of the best things about the Partnership is what it leaves to the future,” said Ladner. “Forests for the Future, formed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2008 with assistance from many Minnesota Forest Legacy partners, is a strong, enduring program that will continue to protect working forests throughout the state and the many benefits they provide for generations to come.”
Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership
- Blandin Foundation
- Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
- Minnesota Deer Hunters Association
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
- Minnesota Forest Industries
- Minnesota Forest Resources Council
- The Conservation Fund
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Trust for Public Land