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Minnesota receives grant for conservation purposes

The St. Paul-based Bush Foundation has granted $750,000 in support of keeping large forested tracts of northern Minnesota from subdivision and development.

The grant, to the Blandin Foundation on behalf of Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, will help to purchase conservation easements from owners of key industrial forestlands and keep these lands from being developed.

"We're pleased to partner in keeping some of these large and still biologically diverse portions of Minnesota's natural heritage intact and thriving," said Peter Hutchinson, Bush Foundation president.

"The work of the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership is critical to offsetting the large-scale shift in forest ownership that already has hit other states, and is gaining momentum in Minnesota."

With changing global economic pressures, most of Minnesota's one million acres of industrial forestland are at risk of conversion to development, also putting at risk good-paying forest industry jobs, diverse wildlife habitat, and access for hunters, anglers, hikers and birders.

To address the threats of parcelization and fragmentation, the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership came together to raise funds to buy conservation easements on high-priority lands owned by forest products companies under tremendous pressure to sell.

Today, Minnesota's larger and more ecologically valuable tracts of forestland often are more profitable for development than keeping intact and producing raw materials for the forest products industry.

"The Bush Foundation grant provides critical funds to allow the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership to protect some of the most pristine and ecologically significant forests in the state," said Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.

"Unlike other parts of Minnesota, our forests are still largely intact and functioning ecosystems. It's the goal of the Partnership to conserve as much forest land as possible while at the same time preserving jobs and public access for outdoor recreation."

"We are immensely grateful to our peers at the Bush Foundation for joining what surely will be one of Minnesota's greatest environmental achievements -- to conserve our northern forests and our way of life for future generations," said Jim Hoolihan, president, Blandin Foundation.

"The pressures on our working forests are real, and the partnership that surrounds this work is both needed and innovative."

With the Bush Foundation grant, the Partnership has raised $11.9 million from private sources including individuals, foundations and companies.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service have contributed an additional $8.1 million to Forest Legacy projects.

With these funds, the Partnership has helped to conserve more than 52,000 acres of working forest in Itasca and Koochiching counties through collaborative and voluntary easements with industrial landowners. Another 81,000-acre easement is in development in Koochiching County.