Upper Mississippi Forest Project
Mature mixed forest in Minnesota. Photo courtesy UPM/Blandin Foundation
Location: North-central Minnesota, specifically Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Itasca, Koochiching, and Saint Louis counties.
Size: Nearly 188,000 acres, the largest conservation deal in Minnesota history.
Purchase Price: $44 million
Download the complete Upper Mississippi Forest Project Fast Fact Sheet
In July, 2010, we celebrated the largest conservation deal in Minnesota history: We completed a working forest conservation easement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Blandin Paper Company (UPM) that forever protects nearly 188,000 acres of Northwoods forests, wetlands and shoreline currently owned by UPM. The Fund helped negotiate the easement and secure private funding for the project, which was completed after ten years of effort.
Minnesota exemplifies a nationwide trend in forest loss: In the last 20 years the state has lost over a third of its industrial forestland. Over the next 20 years, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that some 26 million acres of private forestland will become housing subdivisions, retail developments, vineyards and other land features nationwide.
The Upper Mississippi Forest project stitches together over 4,000 square miles of public and private forests, conserves over 60,000 acres of wetlands and over 280 miles of stream, lake and river frontage. An additional 1,344 acres was acquired by the DNR to help consolidate existing state forests.
What Does The Easement Do?
The easement on the UPM lands prevents development and subdivision of the lands and prohibits alteration of water channels, wetlands, streams and rivers. UPM will be required to follow internationally accepted sustainable forest management practices by being certified through the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative, with auditing by the DNR for compliance.
“This project has been over 10 years in the making. Thanks to private donors, who contributed the largest private gift to conservation in state history, and to Minnesota voters who approved the Legacy Amendment, the dream of many to permanently conserve this amazing landscape has been realized,” said Tom Duffus, the Fund’s upper Midwest director.
Benefits Of Conserving This Forest
- Intact forest: The property connects with existing public forestlands 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 or travels across this forestland, including wolves, black bear, 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 existing 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 Sugar Hills and Koochiching 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 over 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 working 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.
Funding And Support For The Easement
Of the $44 million purchase price, $34.25 million came from state appropriations to DNR’s Minnesota Forests for the Future program, generated from the additional sales tax authorized by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment approved by Minnesota voters in 2008. The Fund provided $9.75 million of private funding through a $7 million grant from the Blandin Foundation, a $2 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and a $750,000 grant from Walmart’s Acres for America program with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The project complements the goals of DNR’s Minnesota Forests for the Future program and is supported by more than 60 local, statewide and national conservation, local government and economic development organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Minnesota Land Trust, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Forest Industries and Minnesota Forest Resources Council.