The history of school trust lands in Minnesota began in March 1849, when the United States Congress established a territorial government for Minnesota, and reserved sections 16 and 36 of each township for the purpose of being applied to school and education in the territory.
Originally, there were 8.3 million acres of Minnesota School Trust Lands. There are now only about 2.5 million acres remaining in Minnesota. More than 92 percent of school trust land is located within ten northern Minnesota counties. School trust land represents 46 percent of the 5.4 million acres of state-owned, DNR-administered land in Minnesota.
The Minnesota legislature (Minnesota Statute 127A.31) has determined that it is the goal of the Permanent School Fund to secure the maximum long-term economic return from the school trust lands consistent with the responsibilities imposed by the trust relationship established in the Minnesota Constitution, with sound natural resource conservation and management principles, and with other specific policy provided in State law.
The State Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee, established by the Legislature, advises the DNR on the management of school trust land for the benefit of the school districts of the State.
The Advisory Committee is required to review DNR policies, and current statutes on management of school trust fund lands at least every six months, and recommend necessary changes in statutes, policy, and implementation in order to ensure appropriate use of the permanent school trust fund lands. [Minnesota Statute 127A.30]
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) covers approximately 1.09 million acres. There are 122,247 acres (about 11.2 percent of the total) in state ownership, both DNR-managed and county-managed. Of this, approximately 93,260 acres (8.5 percent) are Trust Fund lands, 18,450 (1.7 percent) are acquired lands, and 10,513 (1 percent) are tax-forfeited lands.
Currently about 150,000 acres of trust land are being managed in a manner that restricts, and even precludes income generation.
In 1999, the Legislature asked the University of Minnesota-Duluth to value the 122,247 state acres within the BWCAW. The resolution stated the state would use the information to swap its land for federal forest acres outside the protected area. UMD valued the entire acreage at $91 million and estimated the 93,000 acres of school trust fund lands inside worth $72 million.
Researchers said their values are less than what the land is really worth because the state required them to assess it as if it were outside the BWCAW and not pristine, untouched wilderness. That is pristine wilderness land with a worth of $800 per acre! They assessed the value based on its development and recreational viability, which is how the federal government would assess the land if it considers a trade.
Although these lands have School Trust status, they produce no School Trust revenue because no commercial extraction of natural resources is permitted inside the BWCAW.
The state land was there before the wilderness area was designated. The federal Wilderness Act of 1964 designated the BWCA as a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. In 1978, Congress passed the BWCA Wilderness Act, which ended logging activities. Since that time, there have been thousands of acres of land in Permanent School Trust Fund status within the Boundary Waters, where federal laws prohibit management for timber.
School Trust land was established so that the revenue from that land could benefit the public school system of the state in which that land lies. However, since the BWCAW founding, the School Trust land within the Boundary Waters has not been earning money for the Trust, as specified in Minnesota law.
On average, school trust lands generate $7 per acre. $7 X 93,000 = $651,000 X 25 (years since the 1978 Wilderness Act, restricting any revenues on school trust lands within the Boundary Waters.) = $16,275,000
According to Minnesota law, if management decisions were found to be producing less than adequate income from certain trust lands, the trust fund would have to be compensated in some way for the loss revenue. This has not occurred.
The Constitutional Convention of 1857 discussed the handling of school lands, and it was determined that if the lands were sold, it must be at public auction.
CWCS proposes the following:
State School Trust Land -
√ Work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, our Minnesota State legislators, and our Minnesota Federal legislators.
√ Retain hunting, fishing and trapping rights within the Boundary Waters.
√ According to Minnesota law, State School Trust Lands cannot be sold outright to the federal government, as the Friends of the Boundary Waters have proposed. State School Trust Lands can only be sold at public auction. Traded for equal value lands or condemned.
√ Any swap of State lands within the Boundary Waters must be traded for, at the very least, 1 acre Boundary Waters state land for at least 3 acres Forest Service lands outside of the Boundary Waters. Condemnation is not an option, as it does not take into consideration the maximum long-term economic return from the school trust lands. Any kind of land swap will raise objections by the Friends of the Boundary Waters, as state lands considered for timber sales cannot be held up in court. Federal timber sales can be held up in court.
√ Approximately $7 per acre of state school trust lands go into the School Trust Fund for all Minnesota schools. The 93,000 acres of school trust lands within the Boundary Waters has not been able to generate any money for the School Trust Fund for over 25 years. Leases, commercial leases, sales of land, and mineral or timber sales, generate money for the School Trust Fund. 93,000 acres X $7/acre = $651,000 X 25 years = $16,275,000
√ There are 122,250 state acres within the BWCAW. In 1999, UMD valued the entire acreage at $91 million and estimated the 93,000 acres of school trust fund lands inside worth $72 million. That's a value of less than $800 per acre of pristine wilderness! This is grossly under valued and is unacceptable to CWCS.
√ Any State School Trust Lands remaining in the Boundary Waters must receive compensation for not being able to generate revenue for Minnesota schools.
√ CWCS recommends that the Federal government pay for such compensation each year, using Land and Water Conservation Fund monies.