Grand Rapids, Minnesota, USA, 08 July 2010 -- /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the Conservation Fund, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Blandin Paper Company (UPM) announced the completion of a working forest conservation easement that forever protects 187,876 acres of Northwoods forests, wetlands, and shoreline currently owned by UPM. It is the largest conservation deal in the state's history.
Minnesota exemplifies a nationwide trend in forest loss. Private forest ownership across the United States is changing dramatically, and as the forest products industry consolidates, companies are forced to sell off their forestland, most often to land developers or investors. Minnesota has lost over a third of its industrial forestland in the last 20 years. The trend is accelerating: over the next 20 years, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that some 26 million acres of private forestland nationwide will become housing subdivisions, retail establishments, vineyards, and other developments.
"From the remote backwoods to groves near small towns, forests are shrinking," said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. "You wake up one morning and the forest you took for granted down the road is occupied by bulldozers tearing up the trees."
To fight this trend, the Conservation Fund has worked with state, community, and corporate partners to save more than 1.5 million acres of forestland across the country -- with an emphasis on saving privately owned "working" forests. These projects include conservation easements, community-owned forests, and other projects that ensure this key natural infrastructure is protected in ways that benefit the environment and local economies, through forestry jobs and products, as well as recreation.
In Minnesota, the DNR purchased a conservation easement on working forestland owned by UPM. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement in which a landowner – in this case, UPM – sells the development rights to a property. The legal agreement holds permanently, regardless of who may own the land in the future.
The new easement on the UPM lands conserves more than 60,000 acres of wetlands; 280 miles of stream, lake, and river frontage; and stitches together more than 4000 square miles of public and private forests. By keeping this land protected and open to the public, the state provides access to prime hunting, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, snowmobiling, and other recreational activity. 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 is a historic opportunity to protect and sustain our natural resources for generations to come," said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. "It also represents an ideal ongoing approach to conservation work in Minnesota. Citizens can hike, bike, camp, and snowmobile on some of the most beautiful acreage in the state, timber harvests can continue to bolster the economy, and yet the ownership and management of the land is in private hands."
Of the USD 44 million purchase price, USD 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 Conservation Fund provided USD 9.75 million of private funding through a USD 7 million grant from the Blandin Foundation, a USD 2 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and a USD 750,000 grant from Walmart's Acres for America program with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In addition to the easement, the purchase includes 1300 acres acquired by the DNR to help consolidate existing state forests.
"UPM is a global leader in the management and protection of forest resources for multiple uses," said Joe Maher, general manager of UPM's Blandin paper mill in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. "This landmark agreement fits the company's vision for vibrant forests that not only contribute to the economic well being of the region, but also are a source of pleasure and recreation for all."
The Conservation Fund is dedicated to advancing America's land and water legacy. With its partners, it conserves land, trains leaders, and invests in conservation at home. Since 1985, the Conservation Fund has helped protect more than 6 million acres, sustaining wild havens, working lands, and vibrant communities.