The large expanses of peat bog and the diverse array of northern forest habitats at Sax-Zim Bog is a southern extension of Canada's boreal forest. Hundreds of birds funnel their way south each year to Sax-Zim Bog, many of which are rarely seen in the U.S. Winter is a particularly active time for these boreal birds and each February, hundreds of birdwatchers brave the bone-numbing cold to attend the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival. They get to see such spectacular owls as the Great Gray Owl or the Northern Hawk Owl or the graceful Snowy Owl. This birder’s wonderland, however, was largely unprotected and much of it ditched from failed early-century attempts to foster agriculture.

Creative & Complex Solution

This land needed to be restored, but it first needed to be acquired through a land exchange. In 2014, the Fund acquired productive timberlands from Potlatch, a large corporate forestland company, and exchanged these lands for land in and around Sax-Zim Bog that was held as Minnesota School Trust lands and tax-forfeited lands managed by St. Louis County. The Fund then sold the resulting acres to Ecosystem Investment Partners, who will restore the wetlands to sell wetland mitigation credits to offset impacts to nearby wetlands within the Lake Superior watershed from development.

Once the wetlands are restored and the credits are sold and retired, the land will be permanently protected with a conservation easement.

The Conservation Fund is currently working on a second phase of the project which, when completed, will result in a total of 32,000 acres conserved – 10,000 acres of productive timberland and 22,000 acres of restored and conserved bog.

Why This Project Matters

As extraordinary as this project is for conservation, equally impressive is that the Fund, and our partners, found a creative solution for saving this imperiled landscape without the use of public funds. This unique public/private partnership enhanced the financial position of such diverse stakeholders as Minnesota public schools and the Minnesota forest industry while conserving Sax-Zim Bog. As a result, the state’s School Trust will generate more funds for education from the revenue generated by the better forest land that also consolidated its forestland base; Ecosystem Investment Partners, Army Corps of Engineers and the Board of Water & Soil Resources will establish the largest wetland mitigation bank in the Lake Superior basin and one of the largest in the nation; and St. Louis County will generate revenue with its more productive and consolidated forestland. What was once a fragmented landscape is made whole again for the betterment of the environment and the economy.

Most importantly, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and other conservation organizations will have protected valuable bird habitat.

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