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upnorth

An actual good idea for the increase in sale tax $$

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Plan in works to preserve vast tracts of northern Minnesota forest

Conservation groups and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are expected to unveil today a plan to protect 187,000 acres of northern Minnesota forest from development.

By: John Myers , Duluth News Tribune

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Conservation groups and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are expected to unveil today a plan to protect 187,000 acres of northern Minnesota forest from development.

The effort would see the state buy so-called conservation easements on the forest land in Itasca, St. Louis, Koochiching and Aitkin counties. The land is owned by Finland-based UPM-Kymmene, owner of the Blandin paper mill in Grand Rapids.

The easements would forever allow public access for deer hunters and others, prevent the property from being developed for homes or cabins and allow continued access to loggers.

“This would be the largest land conservation effort in recent history of the state,” said Tom Duffus, Upper Midwest director of the Conservation Fund. “But we only have a short window of opportunity here. If we don’t do this now, we may lose it forever.”

The DNR, the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, the Blandin Foundation and other groups are working to pool resources to generate the estimated $50 million needed for the deal.

It would be the largest-ever conservation easement project in the state, quadrupling the 66,000 acres currently in forest conservation easements and providing huge tracts of uninterrupted wildlife habitat, bridging areas between state and national forests, said [PoorWordUsage] Peterson, forest legacy coordinator for the DNR.

Duffus, who met with UPM officials in Finland last fall, said the deal needs to be completed by spring 2010, or changing trends in the global paper industry could see the land sold to a real estate investment company — the same thing that happened to Minnesota forest land owned by Boise Cascade and Potlatch.

Supporters note that they can protect the land for about $260 an acre, or about one-third the cost of purchasing property outright.

Sales tax money eyed

Duffus said the Blandin Foundation and other large private donors may be able to contribute about $8 million. But the state needs at least $42 million and perhaps more — a big chunk of money in tight economic times.

Supporters are eying money from the state’s newly expanded sales tax dedicated to natural resources.

On Monday, DNR officials and conservation leaders plan to propose the deal to the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council. The council is the advisory board for lawmakers on how to spend about $70 million of the new sales tax money this year.

Darby Nelson, a citizen member of the Outdoor Heritage Council, said not all projects proposed will get funding. There are about $300 million in project requests competing for the $70 million.

“I know this is a high-priority project with conservation groups and the DNR. And projects where we could lose something if we don’t act now will get some leverage,” said Nelson, of Champlin, Minn. “But we just don’t know yet which ones are going to get funded this time around. It’s going to be a tough call. I’d love to see it happen. But that’s a lot of money to put into one pot.”

Duffus said the project should meet most criteria for the new sales tax money.

“This is exactly the kind of project Minnesota voters had in mind when they went to the polls Nov. 4” and approved raising the sales tax for natural resources, Duffus said. “It’s land conservation, clean water protection, wildlife habitat and public access all in one project.”

Keeping land open

The sale and development of private forest land in northern Minnesota has been called the region’s biggest conservation problem. Especially at risk are large tracts once owned by big forest products companies but now in the hands of national investment firms that make money on real estate.

The trend toward smaller parcels and new cabins and homes has been hard on animals, with the addition of roads, buildings and commotion in wildlife habitat. Preserving large tracts of undeveloped land, in addition to corridors between those tracts, is considered a critical step in preserving the region’s forest ecosystems

Forest development also often includes “no trespassing” signs that keep deer hunters and others off land once open to the public. Developed land also often becomes off-limits to loggers, damaging an industry already hit hard by the deepening recession and global trade trends.

Supporters note that there are 17 mills in Minnesota with a combined workforce of 3,500 people that buy timber from the UPM land. Hundreds more Minnesotans use the land for deer hunting, berry picking and snowmobiling, said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

“The increase in leases and fees for hunting is a big concern for a lot of people who can’t afford to pay to hunt,” Johnson said. “Not only does this keep the land open to everyone, but it’s forever.”

While Minnesota has large tracts of state, county and federally-managed forests, more than half of northern Minnesota’s forests are privately owned. Conservation leaders hope to eventually secure easements on about 500,000 acres of that private land.

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Without knowing what all the other requests are, this sounds like just what we were looking for. 187,000 acres is too good to pass up.

Sounds like a one time purchase so it won't be a drain on the fund year after year.

Remember, people thought Seward wasted a ton of money when he bought Alaska. Who's complaining now?

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Without knowing what all the other requests are, this sounds like just what we were looking for. 187,000 acres is too good to pass up.

Sounds like a one time purchase so it won't be a drain on the fund year after year.

Remember, people thought Seward wasted a ton of money when he bought Alaska. Who's complaining now?

yeah and the russians thought we were idiots for wanting to purchase it laugh

the problem is this is a good idea. therefore, it has little chance in being done

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tacklejunkie, we're in complete agreement.

Which makes it completely impossible that it will ever happen!

<I think I just saw a few pigs go past the window. Getting up to check>

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tacklejunkie, we're in complete agreement.

Which makes it completely impossible that it will ever happen!

<I think I just saw a few pigs go past the window. Getting up to check>

OMG LOL, good thing I wasn't drinking something or it would all over my monitor grinlaughcool

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Yup, that's funny right there.... grin

The article in the Sunday paper (Northern section of the Strib) had a positive spin on it. They realize its a huge request for the new fund but aren't ashamed of it. Shouldn't be.

We'll see if it holds up for a week before the near-thinkers rip it apart.

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Finally something that makes sense!!! BUY BUY BUY!!! I say take all that new tax money and buy up land with it.

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This is just the kind of thing they promised the fund would be for. I just hope they can/will actually follow through and do what they promised us.

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This is just the kind of thing they promised the fund would be for. I just hope they can/will actually follow through and do what they promised us.

one can only hope. forgive me for my skepticism

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I am trying very hard to stay positive and definitely taking a hopeful wait and see stance.

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I'm against using my tax dollars for this project. I see no benefit to anyone other than a select few 218'ers... smirk

$50...MILLION DOLLARS...... eek

I'll never go there!

Why my money?

Can we trust these people?

NO DEAL!

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Does anyone know how much reveune this property generates through real estate taxes paid by the current owners? If this is taken off the tax rolls, what will replace it for the school districts and county services up there?

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Leaky, here's what was in the paper:

"Under the terms of the proposal, to be presented to the council on Monday, UPM Blandin would agree to permanently conserve its land in exchange for receiving about $42 million in outdoors-dedicated sales tax money and $9 million from private contributions. The company would still own the land and harvest timber and pay taxes. But it would give up the right to develop or subdivide the property, and would be required to manage it sustainably and keep it open for public hunting, hiking, snowmobiling and other recreation. The restrictions would apply to any future owner of the land."

Sounds like it would stay on the tax rolls.

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yep, the state wouldn't be buying the land, they'd be buying certain rights to the land.

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Thanks Max - missed that part in the story. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

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I myself think there are better uses for the money. The state would not be buying the land only paying millions so the company will not subdivide it. Seems to me this company thinks they found a cash cow to milk.

This is just my opinion.

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I've got to differ with you yaggie, and I'll tell you why:

Timber company land in this area has traditionally been open to public recreation because of tax incentives given to the landowners to keep them open for public use.

Two things have happened recently to change this.The first was a provision granted that allowed the timber companies to keep this tax incentive and lease their land to private parties. The second has been the combination of low timber/pulp markets and the astronomic rise in the value of land for recreational use.

What has happened very quickly here is that Potlatch and Boise lands have been posted and either leased or sold outright, making thousands of acres off limits to the public. Rajala Timber Co., which also owns thousands of acres has also posted and leased most of their land.

Aside from the fact that these lands are off limits, many of these plots served as access points for vast stretches of public lands. Many of these lands can no longer be reached by the public due to the terrain of the area. Lands that were sold outright to private individuals now have driveways,cabins atv trails food plots etc., fragmenting the forest and taking acreage out of production forever.

I believe Blandin is the largest private landowner in this area and keeping their land open to the public is essential. I know it seems as though Blandin is sort of holding their land as hostage, but the economic realities are what they are.

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The beauty of this plan is that the land will still be privately owned and taxes paid on it, but it will be looked as as public land meaning everyone will have access to it. The way things are many of these private companies have been selling off land to smaller private interest which then makes them unavailable to Joe Public.

You think it is tough to find a spot to go hunting and not have someone literally sitting right next to you now? let this land get sold off and not available to the public and see how crowded things get.

And once this opportunity slips away it is gone. The will be no whoops, can I buy that easement now.

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I agree Upnorth, this is one thing I could get behind.

Yaggie, what are the better uses? More dog parks??

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Look at the ways our government wastes money these days. 50 million is pocket change to secure 187,000 acres that will open to the public FOREVER. The state should try and work a deal with all the paper land in the state.

If you ask me UPM-Kymmene is giving us a great opportunity. They could sell the land outright for maybe 4 times as much and the public could lose it forever. Plus they will continue to pay taxes on all the land, how can you not see the benefit?

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Peatmoss, that's a great summary of the issues.

I just don't see any downside to this, & it seems tailor-made to fit the funding recently approved by the voters of MN. I guess the devil's always in the details, but I'm optimistic about this.

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Peatmoss, that's a great summary of the issues.

I just don't see any downside to this, & it seems tailor-made to fit the funding recently approved by the voters of MN. I guess the devil's always in the details, but I'm optimistic about this.

Now a matter of if the Lessard committee agrees too.

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One downside may be the location. Is all of this land easily accesible? Is the land adjacent to roads or is it landlocked?

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I would suspect a parcel of that size would have bordering roads and other accesses. The timber trucks and equipment need access to harvest the trees. Although I don't know that for sure. wink

It's a huge area.

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One downside may be the location. Is all of this land easily accesible? Is the land adjacent to roads or is it landlocked?

One of the objects of this is to not land lock other parcels of govt land. Most of it is stuff that had and still being somewhat logged for paper products so there has to be roads etc.

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