Benefits and Background
The Upper Mississippi-UPM Forestry Legacy Project will protect nearly 190,000 acres of working forests in Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis, Cass, Beltrami, Koochiching, and Clearwater counties in northern Minnesota. The project includes a permanent conservation easement on 187,876 acres and a fee acquisition of 1,300 acres. Protection of the property will prevent fragmentation and parcelization of the forest and ensure it remains intact and sustainably managed forever while providing recreational, economic, and environmental benefits.
- This project will ensure permanent public recreational access for hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, and other uses. The property contains an extensive network of grant-in-aid snowmobile trails as well as state-designated OHV routes. A segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail is on this property.
- The project contains extensive water features, including approximately 30 miles of state-designated trout streams and more than 100 miles of other streams, over 130 miles of lake and pond shoreline, and approximately 60,000 acres of intact wetlands. The managed forests provide habitat for deer, grouse, woodcock as well as numerous nongame species.
- The property provides an important forest resource that contributes timber and other forest products important to the regional and state economy.
- Intact forest: The property connects with existing public forest lands to create more than 4,000 square miles of uninterrupted forest habitat, providing shelter for wildlife today and potential resiliency to climate change over time.
- Wildlife habitat: A colorful collection of wildlife lives on or travels across this forest land, including wolves, black bears, eagles, great gray owls, osprey, ruffed grouse, woodcock, and neotropical migratory songbirds. Rare plants, such as triangle moonwort, hidden-fruit bladderwort, white adder's mouth and dragon's mouth, also call this land home. The property's value is recognized in the State Conservation and Preservation Plan.
- Clean water: This property includes parts of rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands that feed into or affect the Upper Mississippi River, which provides drinking water to millions of people, including residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul. More than 60,000 acres of wetlands and 280 miles of shoreline exist on the property.
- Public Access: The project keeps this land open for outdoor recreation, including hiking, birding, hunting, and fishing. The property is adjacent to hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, including Chippewa National Forest; county tax-forfeit lands; Big Fork, Hill River, Golden Anniversary, Remer, Savanna,and George Washington state forests; and the Itasca-Sugar Hills and Koochiching-Washington conservation easement lands.
- Hunting/trapping/fishing: The project protects and provides access to 30 miles of state-designated trout streams, including spring-fed Smith Creek, 121 miles of other streams and 133 miles of lake and pond shoreline.
- Hiking: The project creates a new segment for the North Country National Scenic Trail, a congressionally-designated walking trail that crosses 10 states.
- Snowmobiling: The property includes more than 82 miles of trails for snowmobiles as well as ATV use on 32 miles of state-designated trails and more than 200 miles of other routes, with safeguards to protect the environment and forest resources.
- Economic security: This property will remain a working forest that produces pulp, paper, and high-value forest products. The property supplies 17 manufacturing facilities in Minnesota, supporting more than 3,200 families and hundreds more in related businesses.
- Property tax revenue: The landowner will continue to pay property taxes on the land, maintaining this local revenue stream.
Timeline: November 2008-June 2009: Dick Peterson and Craig Engwall begin discussions with UPM Blandin with Tom Duffus of the Conservation Fund serving as facilitator for the discussions. An agreement is reached to proceed with a project proposal to the LSOHC and a draft conservation easement is agreed to. Appraisal is completed and certified and negotiations over final terms begins. A project funding proposal is submitted to LSOHC. The proposal is recommended by LSOHC to the Legislature and Legislature appropriates $36 million over 2 years for the project.
- June 2009: Agreement on terms is reached with UPM Blandin and Option is signed.
- July 2009-Present: Due diligence work is begun. Closing documents are in preparation with the expectation to conclude all due diligence and close on July 8, 2010 subject to funding availability and completion and agreement on all due diligence.
Funding: Appropriation from Minnesota Session Laws 2009. Chapter 172, Art. 1, Sect 2. Subdiv. 3. Forests provided $18 million each in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 and was provided from the Outdoor Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) to restore, protect, and enhance Minnesota's wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. Matching funding was required and so at least $9 million in private donations were also provided for the project. The total price of $44 million was met with $9.75 million in private donations (Blandin Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation - Walmart Acres for America Program). The total price of $44 million was met through a $9.75 million grant to the DNR from the Conservation Fund and $34.25 million from the legislative appropriation.