Laurentian Forest - St. Louis County Habitat Project
$2,400,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association in cooperation with The Conservation Fund and St. Louis County to acquire land in fee to be transferred to St. Louis County for wildlife habitat purposes for agreements as follows: $2,292,000 to Minnesota Deer Hunter Association; $108,000 to Conservation Fund. A list of proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Forestlands are protected from development and fragmentation - GIS mapping will show how project parcels align with existing protected forest habitat to maximize project benefits..
Project partners Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) and The Conservation Fund (TCF) will work cooperatively with St. Louis County to protect in fee approximately 2,500 acres of forest habitat at risk of being converted to uses that would degrade critical habitat for wildlife in Minnesota's northeast forest landscape. Targeted parcels will be those that are vital to maintaining large, unfragmented blocks of forest that deliver the greatest habitat benefits. Adjacency to county, state and federal lands will be a key focus in leveraging the habitat benefits provided by project parcels.
Problem to be addressedNorthern Minnesota's forest-dominated landscape provides important wildlife habitat, clean water, public recreational opportunities and economic value from its timber. It includes many large, privately owned parcels that are interspersed with millions of acres of county, state, federal and tribal forest lands. These privately owned parcels total more than one million acres of which most are held by large corporations.The past two decades have seen significant restructuring in the timber industry that has changed the northern forest and put habitat and public access at risk. More than 500,000 acres of industrial forest lands have changed ownership. Much of this land has been sold and converted into smaller parcels. The Minnesota Forest Resources Council has identified parcelization as the major policy problem confronting the ecological and economic health of Minnesota's forests. Forest conversion and fragmentation are two major physical alterations to the forest that can result from parcelization.In and near the focus area of this project, this parcelization trend continues. For example, the Potlatch Corporation (Potlatch) once owned 345,000 acres in the northern forest and now holds only 160,000 acres. In St. Louis County, Potlatch ownership has dropped from 110,000 acres to 70,000 acres. Potlatch has entirely divested its 40,000 acres in Lake County, and it retains only 1,000 acres of the nearly 21,000 acres it held in Pine and Carlton Counties. This divestiture continues as Potlatch has sold, or is in the process of selling, over 175 parcels in St. Louis County since 2013.Goals and Scope of WorkTo mitigate forest conversion and fragmentation and the associated loss of habitat within St. Louis County, this project will protect by acquisition in fee approximately 2,500 acres of high priority habitat.All of the lands to be protected are currently owned by Potlatch. The project partners and St. Louis County have worked with Potlatch to review all of the company's holdings within the county to determine which parcels best fulfill project goals. See project map and prioritization methodology (Attachment A). St. Louis County has put its full support behind this project. See County Resolution (Attachment B). Many of the remaining Potlatch parcels that do not receive funding under this application are well-suited to being the focus of a future Request for Funding.Project partners, in coordination with St. Louis County, will use the following criteria to prioritize parcels:1) Habitat quality;2) Adjacency to other large forest blocks, with an emphasis on lands managed by St. Louis County;3) Immediacy of threat of conversion; and4) Potential to acquire parcels where mineral rights have not been severed.As will be discussed in greater detail below, St. Louis County will hold and manage all project lands.