September 11, 2012
On behalf of Minnesota Conservation Federation’s 5,000 conservationists in Minnesota and National Wildlife Federation’s 4 million members and supporters across the country, we urge you to oppose H.R.5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act.
H.R. 5544 would direct the U.S. Forest Service to complete an expedited land exchange of more than 86,000 acres of School Trust Lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for yet-to-be-determined federal lands in the Superior or Chippewa National Forests. The result would be the loss of tens of thousands of acres of National Forest land that would instead be managed for maximum revenue generation, placing an irreplaceable part of Minnesota, and the United States, in jeopardy without public input.
The BWCAW, the Superior and Chippewa National Forests are critical to Minnesota’s outdoor recreation economy. Hunting, fishing, camping, paddling and other outdoor recreation activities drives the economy in this part of the state, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. This economy would be threatened by the land exchange because the land would be prioritized by intensive development activities such as mining, which would negatively impact wildlife habitat and the outdoor experience. In addition, this bill does not specify which federal lands would be exchanged, which could restrict public access to areas in the National Forests. No one knows what federal lands will be close to hunting, fishing, and other activities because of this bill.
H.R. 5544 includes several other major flaws that circumvent Minnesota’s process to generate revenue for Minnesota’s schools and undermines existing protections for the land and water involved in this exchange:
• H.R. 5544 does not follow adequate appraisal standards. The process to value the land to be exchanged is unclear and the bill lacks the federal uniform standards of appraisal to make sure the taxpayer is protected.
• H.R. 5544 blocks public input by waiving NEPA. The land exchange between the Forest Service and the state will not be transparent and the public will not have the opportunity to comment. Waiving these public protections hurts all stakeholders and essentially eliminates accountability.
• H.R.5544 fails to take into account recreational or ecological value. Since H.R.5544 does not identify the federal lands to be exchanged, all land in the Superior and Chippewa National Forests is on the table. Loss of economic value from closing off recreational opportunities or impacts to private property rights is not considered in this legislation. Hunters and anglers know how important conservation and recreation is to Minnesota and want a process that takes these values into account.
The land transferred into the School Trust is likely to include harmful sulfide-ore mining with huge potential implications to water resources. Minnesotans are concerned about the impacts that extractive activities such as mining could have in the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior watershed, making public participation in these decisions all the more important. These watersheds contain critical wildlife corridors and habitat for fish, game and endangered species.
There is already an alternative process to achieve the goal of completing land exchanges to benefit Minnesota’s schools that does involve the public. The Permanent School Trust Fund Advisory Committee, established by the Minnesota Legislature, appointed a working group of stakeholders to identify appropriate candidate lands for a mix of sale and exchange in a transparent manner. H.R. 5544 ignores this progress and unnecessarily abandons Congressional precedent on federal land exchanges.
The land exchange proposed by H.R. 5544 could have serious consequences for Minnesota’s water, fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation economy. Minnesota Conservation Federation and National Wildlife Federation believe strongly that it is unethical and immoral to base the education of our school children upon the destruction of the land that is their true heritage. We urge you to oppose H.R. 5544 so that these future generations will be able to experience the wildlife, clean water, forests and recreational opportunities that we enjoy in Minnesota today.