There's a plan to trade some BWCAW land – and it got a lot of people upset


The state of Minnesota and the U.S. Forest Service have been in talks for years on a land swap concerning the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

They want to trade ownership of thousands of acres of land in northern Minnesota, in order to solve a decades-old land management issue.

But concerns about what will happen to the land after the trade prompted the Forest Service to conduct an environmental review on the land swap proposal, the Forest Service announced.

Here's a look at what the deal does, and why people are opposed.

The land-management problem

Back when Minnesota became a state, the U.S. government gave Minnesota land through its "school trust land" program – but a requirement for this land was that it be used to generate revenue for public schools, according to the Forest Service's website.

Roughly 83,000 acres of that land is located inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But now, it's restricted from generating that revenue because of the area's protected wilderness designation.

Because of this, the Forest Service and state were forced to come up with a plan to transfer ownership of this school trust land.

Under the proposed exchange, the Forest Service would acquire roughly 30,000 acres of state school trust land within the BWCAW. In exchange, the state would get roughly 30,000 acres of federal land within the Superior National Forest.

This land swap is basically a first step, as the two sides work to transfer ownership of the 83,000 acres of school trust land in the Boundary Waters. The U.S. Forest Service plans to purchase the remaining land, reports note.

The land the state acquires in the Superior National Forest will be used to generate funds for the permanent school fund.

Conservationists express their concern

During a public comment period on the land swap this spring, the proposal generated 1,600 comments, while more than 19,000 people signed a petition opposing the swap. Others wrote letters and packed public hearings about the issue.

“The interest and response was greater than we anticipated,” Forest Service spokeswoman Sandy Skrien said, according to the Star Tribune.

Environmental groups expressed concern, saying the swap would shrink the Superior National Forest by 47 square miles, the Friends of the Boundary Waters noted. Others say the forest may not be as well-protected under state ownership, MPR News reports.

Because of all the public interest in the land swap proposal, the

" target="_blank">Forest Service said Monday it will prepare an environmental impact statement. A draft of the statement is expected in early 2016, and next fall, following a public comment period, a final impact statement will be released.

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