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 Minnesota’s schools has been prohibited since 1978.

To solve this challenge and preserve one of the world’s last great wild places, we worked with the State of Minnesota, the US Forest Service and partners to develop a multiyear solution improving conservation protections on over 115,000 acres of forestland. This solution allows the Forest Service to purchase the non-revenue-producing School Trust lands locked in the Boundary Waters utilizing federal Land and Water Conservation Funds. This solution also conserves tens of thousands of private timberlands as working forests outside the Wilderness Area purchased by TCF, ensuring these lands remain in federal, state and county ownership, increasing public access and sustainable timber management for Minnesotans.


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.