BWCA land swap bill held over

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The proposed condemnation of state-owned lands in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and exchanging the land for federal land outside the area sparked divergent ideas on how to boost revenues from school trust lands in Minnesota.

HF2207, sponsored by Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake), was laid over by the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

McFarlane’s bill would condemn about 36,000 acres of state-owned land in the BWCA and exchange it for federally-owned land outside the wilderness area. The sale or leasing of that land could bolster funding to the state’s school trust fund. Some of the federal land lies in the Superior National Forest.

This is a huge priority for the department and the State of Minnesota to sell the land,” said Bob Meier, director of policy and government relations for the Department of Natural Resources.

Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) said the state should use the estimated $100 million the federal government could pay for the wilderness land to help fund K-12 education.

Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), whose district includes the BWCA, said, “We should mine, log and lease the hell out of that land” to generate revenue rather than counting on lease revenue to fund education.

After quietly listening to the debate, Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson) said, “If we’re really concerned about children, let’s adequately fund education.”

A group of 41 environment and conservation groups submitted a letter opposing the plan. Justin Fay, legislative coordinator for the Sierra Club, said his group opposes the condemnation of BWCA land and subsequent exchange because the federal government provides better protection.

Sen. John Carlson (R-Bemidji) sponsors the companion bill, SF1857, which awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.