Since the late 1970s, approximately 83,000 acres of State School Trust lands have been locked within the federally designated wilderness known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. When the lands within the Boundary Waters were designated as federal wilderness in 1978, these blocks of School Trust lands—which were set aside by Congress in 1858 when Minnesota became a state to “generate revenue for Minnesota’s schools”—were essentially locked in, causing land management issues for both the State of Minnesota and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The USFS administers the BWCAW within the Superior National Forest.

Conoe trip at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness area. Photo credit: Hansi Johnson.

Because the School Trust lands are located within a federally designated wilderness area, managing these lands to produce revenue for the Minnesota’s schools became prohibited. Consequently, these School Trust lands that are traditionally managed to generate revenue for public education were unable to bring in funding.

To solve this challenge, and preserve one of the world’s last great wild places, we worked with the State of Minnesota, USFS and partners to develop a multiyear solution that would trade the non-revenue-producing School Trust lands locked in the Boundary Waters for private timber lands outside the wilderness area, significantly expanding the revenue that could be generated for Minnesota schools.


This solution not only safeguards Minnesota’s prized Boundary Waters, but it also consolidates the working forestlands outside the BWCAW and supports the sustainable local forest products industry, generating income from jobs and working forests by preserving Minnesota’s wood basket. The state’s public schools will finally be able to obtain financial support from what previously was a nonperforming asset. These working forestlands outside the BWCAW will be consolidated, and recreational access for the public will be expanded.

Fishing at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness area. Photo credit: Hansi Johnson.