PotlatchDeltic Corporation has completed the previously announced sale of 72,440 acres of forestland in northern and central Minnesota to The Conservation Fund for nearly $48 million. The Conservation Fund’s purchase will provide time for the development and implementation of permanent conservation strategies with local partners that will preserve working forestlands and safeguard jobs, while also protecting water quality and wildlife habitat, contributing to local economies and allowing for recreational access, according to a Conservation Fund news release.
The lands acquired by The Conservation Fund are in 14 counties— Aitkin, Becker, Beltrami, Carlton, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Morrison, St. Louis, and Wadena. Approximately 31,600 acres are located within the reservation boundaries of two bands of the Minnesota Ojibwe Tribe—the Bois Forte Band and the Leech Lake Band.
In a previous announcement this summer, it was expected that there would be a purchase of 4,900 acres in Wadena County. The new number shows a decrease to 3,520 acres. Many of these acres are smattered along the Crow Wing River watershed and in the north east part of the county surrounding current state forests.
The goal for these Conservation Fund acres is to eventually be turned over to the counties, over the next decade, with a plan to use them as working forests, able to be used by the public but also as a source of revenue from timber harvest. In discussions this summer, Wadena County Commissioners indicated that they did not wish to see more property turned over as government owned as that depleted property tax revenues on that land. The need to increase property tax revenues to lower the burden on tax payers has been a consistent topic at county commission meetings.
Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District assistant manager Anne Oldakowski said with the sale now finalized the local district hopes that the Conservation Fund staff will work closely with the local staff to make sure the local goals and plans for this property is taken into consideration. Oldakowski said the sale has pros and cons. Cons being this land, once given over to the county or other government entity, does not take in the full property tax amount, which puts a greater burden on current property owners.
The pros of such a sale mean the land, much of which is forested and within important water sheds will be protected and managed for timber harvest. The property also would receive some payment in lieu of taxes.
"I think they were looking more at trying to protect forest land from conversion," Oldakowski said. These lands have a lot red pines, which work to keep the water clean. "Keeping these lands forested acts as wildlife corridors. There is a forest land base that is really important.
If and when the property comes back to the county, Oldakowski said the goal would be to continue to protect this land in an effort to keep water clean, and forests healthy. The county has plans in place to manage the timber, with sales going back into the county funds. She sees this property to be a useful recreation area as well, something that does bring revenue into the county.
"In the end we just hope that this fund works with the local government to make sure it's managed correctly. If we can help with any soil and water conservation efforts on that land we will do so and we hope that this fund reaches out to the county locally and does the right thing," Oldakowski continued.
“Changing economic conditions have caused industrial forestland across much of the U.S. to be converted to non-forest uses, subdivided and lost over the last 20 years," President and CEO of The Conservation Fund Larry Selzer remarked in a news release. "Our goal is to protect five million acres of working forests across the country, and our purchase of PotlatchDeltic’s acreage in Minnesota accelerates that effort by taking an important first step to ensure the majority of these lands remain forested and will continue to be sustainably managed as working timberlands.”
This outcome is the culmination of work over the last decade between The Conservation Fund and PotlatchDeltic to achieve both conservation and economic goals. With this transaction and others underway, they have conserved more than 200,000 acres in the State of Minnesota for various conservation purposes, including working forests, protection of important habitats and public access, according to the release. The lumber mill in Bemidji will continue to be owned and operated by PotlatchDeltic as it has for nearly 30 years with logs supplied from Minnesota’s Heritage Forest, supporting the jobs required to deliver and process the trees.
“Our temporary ownership provides time to develop permanent conservation strategies best suited for our partners and the lands that include public access and recreational opportunities under future county, state, tribal, and local government ownership,” said Kim Berns-Melhus, Minnesota state director for The Conservation Fund. “We will work to better align and consolidate public forest holdings through land exchanges and direct conveyances resulting in improved economic returns to community, state and tribal governments, as well as enhancing revenue for Minnesota school districts throughout the state.”
Many of Minnesota’s Heritage Forest tracts are adjacent to existing public lands and will build on the network of large, protected landscapes of undivided forests.