Rep. Cravaack backs wilderness land swaps


Just days after the Minnesota Legislature approved a plan to trade state land in the Boundary Waters for federal land outside the wilderness, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack has introduced the deal in Congress.

The Duluth News-tribune reports Cravaack introduced the bill Tuesday. It would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade for about 86,000 acres of state land locked inside the 1.1 million-acre federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

In exchange, the state would get a similar amount of Superior National Forest land outside the wilderness -- acres that could then be mined, logged and otherwise managed for state revenue, primarily to stock the state's public school trust fund.

The bill would direct the U.S. secretary of agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service, to conclude the exchange within one year.
Supporters say the proposal will end a decades-long dispute over what to do with the state land tied up inside the BWCA since the current wilderness boundaries were adopted in 1978. They say newly acquired federal lands outside the BWCA now can be transferred to the state, which will allow mining and logging.

Opponents say that's exactly the problem -- that the exchange drastically would reduce the overall size of the Superior National Forest outside the wilderness -- opening potentially sensitive lands to less-strict state regulations for mining and logging. Critics say the deal is being rushed to promote mining in areas near Ely that would transfer from federal to state control.

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