Following an agreement signed on Nov. 29, the largest working forest easement in Minnesota history is now located in Crow Wing County.
The Trust for Public Land, DNR, Potlatch Corp. and Crow Wing County have signed an agreement to permanently protect 3,100 acres of land adjacent to the Crow Wing State Forest in Mission Township. Known as the Brainerd Lakes Forest Legacy project, it's the first phase of an easement that will include another 1,600 acres near Pillsbury State Forest, bringing the entire easement to 4,700 acres, all of which will remain open to the public for perpetuity.
The second phase of the project is expected to be completed early next year. When finished it will link 22,000 acres of public and private land.
This map shows the location of the first phase of the Brainerd Forest Legacy project, which will preserve 4,800 acres of land for public use. The parcel shown here includes about 3,100 acres. Another 1,600 acres near Pillsbury State Forest will be added to the project in 2006.
Trust for Public Land
The DNR's division of forestry owns the easement and will be steward of the land. It will never be developed, but will continue to be logged by Potlatch. Habitat management will still be handled by Potlatch with input from the DNR.
"Protecting this land from development goes beyond conserving a natural area," said Tom Murn, Potlatch resource manager. "It protects our resources and allows the land to contribute to the local wood products economy."
Working forest easements are a conservation tool that's been used 15 times over the past five years, said Susan Schmidt, Minnesota director for the Trust for Public Land. All of the previous 15 projects involved 100-200 acre parcels in southeastern Minnesota.
"This is the first time we've used this tool in this scope," Schmidt said. "We hope it's a sign, a beacon, that more of this will happen with Potlatch, Boise Cascade and other large landowners. They're under tremendous economic pressure to sell. The value of the land is going up so high that it doesn't pay to keep it in trees. To respond to that pressure we must come up with options. Working forest easements purchase part of a bundle or rights."
Said Murn: "We took a couple sticks out of that bundle and sold them."
Several years ago Potlatch began leasing its lands to private parties. The lease holders have exclusive hunting rights, meaning thousands of acres have been lost to the public.
A pair of deer hunters (bottom right) prepares to go ashore off the Pine River into the Crow Wing State Forest. The land is part of the Brainerd Forest Legacy project and will remain open to hunting and other public uses through an agreement reached between the state, county and Potlatch Corp. on Nov. 29. Trust for Public Land
When asked why Potlatch didn't take that route with this land, Murn said: "Not all of the lands we own will be leased. We had another design for this parcel."
Working forest easements are popular in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Wisconsin and Michigan - all places where land values have skyrocketed as people build second homes or weekend getaways in the country, Schmidt said.
Crow Wing County is among the fastest growing counties in the state and easements such as this will help preserve what remains of the county's northwoods feel.
The $3.5 million project is funded through a combination of state and federal money. The federal Forest Legacy Program put up $2.8 million. The state kicked in $730,000 in matching dollars as part of the 2005 bonding bill. Potlatch threw in $182,000 in land value donations, meaning it sold the development rights to the land for less than they're worth.
The project was supported by the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association, U.S. Sens. Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar and locally by the Crow Wing County Board. Forester Keith Simar led the charge for the DNR with support from Area Wildlife Manager Gary Drotts and Area Fisheries Manager Tim Brastrup.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862
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