Eye On Mining: School Trust Lands in the BWCA take center stage
When Minnesota became a state in 1858, sections of land in every township were granted to the state from the federal government to support schools.
Those lands are known as School Trust Lands, and their purpose is to create revenue for public schools through industry, like mining.
But some of the school trust lands are landlocked in the Boundary Waters.
"Without mining, what is going to fund our schools?"
That's the question many folks, including Nancy McReady have.
She is the President of Conservationists with Common Sense, or CWCS, which is an organization that focuses on a variety of Boundary Waters issues.
She's also a resident of Ely.
"The 1964 Wilderness Act says they shall be exchanged for equal value federal lands outside the Boundary Waters, why do we even have these laws?"
Minnesota state law says School Trust Lands will be used to generate money for public schools.
The problem is, thousands of acres are landlocked in the Boundary Waters, making them untouchable as a source of revenue.
That's where the Forest Service comes into play.
"We're pursuing this conveyance of School Trust Lands, 83,000 acres of school trust lands, inside the wilderness so that we can manage the wilderness better," said Kris Reichenbach, Public Affairs Officer for the Superior National Forest.
"For the state, they can exchange for land so that they can manage and generate funds for the school trust which will help the public schools," she added.
According to data from the Minnesota DNR, those funds help in a big way.
In 2016 Minnesota's iron mines contributed $28 million to the school trust fund, money McReady said is vital to Iron Range schools.
"This would be able to fund our schools by generating money whether it's by mining, logging, leasing, leasing recreational lands, berry picking, whatever. Various ways that money can be generated for the school trust lands."
McReady grew up in Ely and said she's seen the city's school district dwindle.
"I graduated from the schools in the 1970s in Ely with a class size of, I think pretty near, 150 students. This year it was 37 students graduating. That's not a healthy community."
That's why the Forest Service said this exchange is in the best interest of both parties.
"We see this proposal as kind of a win-win for the people of the state and for people interested in the wilderness and the management on the forest," said Reichenbach.
McReady said the fate of Minnesota's public schools is something everyone should be involved in.
"This is such an important issue, and it should be important to every single school district in the whole state of Minnesota. Because without mining, there will be very little money revenue generated for our school trust lands."
The third and final public information session on the proposed land exchange will take place Thursday in St. Paul.