Minnesota Legislators Battle over Trust Lands

Minnesota state legislators are arguing over who should administer more than 2.5 million acres of school trust lands in the forests of northern Minnesota.

Minnesota Public Radio, HERE, and the Duluth News-Tribune, HERE, have in-depth stories on the issue.  A News-Tribune graphic maps the school trust lands HERE.

Currently, the state’s Department of Natural Resources is responsible for management of the lands which in most cases are surrounded by other state lands managed by the DNR.  Critics of the current arrangement want an agency that will focus on getting the most income from the lands in charge of the tracts, rather than the DNR.

The lands in question were given to Minnesota by the federal government over 150 years ago so the state could raise money for an education trust fund.  The trust fund has grown over the years — thanks to land sales and moneys the state earns from the lands through logging and mining — but critics say the lands should earn more.

Critics cite an inherent conflict to the DNR’s management of the lands, since the agency is called to “conserve” the state’s resources.  They say the $700 million trust fund would be another $250 million richer, had the DNR managed the lands more aggressively in recent years.

Defenders of the current arrangement note that having another agency manage school trust lands will increase management costs and won’t guarantee greater income from the lands.

The mission of the Minnesota DNR is “to work with citizens to conserve and manage the state’s natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life.”

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