DULUTH -- The Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe is continuing its effort to regain ownership of reservation lands, quietly buying property from Potlatch Corp.
The band has purchased more than 2,000 acres of Potlatch forest land over the past two years and expects to buy nearly all of the former timber company's remaining 1,000 acres within the reservation boundaries as early as next year.
"It's been a two-year process to get to this point, and we have a plan for a third year to finish it,'' said Tim Krohn of the Fond du Lac Resource Management Department.
The land is in St. Louis and Carlton counties.
Mark Benson, spokesman for the Spokane, Wash.-based Potlatch, said the sales, including about 1,200 acres this year, have worked well for both parties.
"These are lands that fill well for Fond du Lac and that make sense for us," Benson said. "The relationship has been good for them and good for us.'' By the end of 2010, almost all of Potlatch's forested lands within the reservation will have been sold to the band, he said.
Potlatch once used its forested lands to provide trees for its mills. But the company has sold nearly all of its mills and has transformed into a real estate investment firm that makes money by owning land that appreciates in value, selling timber, leasing hunting land and selling some tracts.
Potlatch owns about 250,000 acres in Minnesota, down from 310,000 acres a few years ago.
The Fond du Lac Reservation was created in 1860 with more than 100,000 acres assigned to the band after the band agreed to cede other land to the U.S. government. But between the 1890s and 1920s, all but about 10,000 acres of the reservation was doled out to individual band members and later purchased or taken by non-Indians.
Over the past few years, using casino and hotel revenues, Fond du Lac officials have worked to restore band ownership of land within the reservation, and the band now owns about 30,000 acres within the reservation boundaries. About 25,000 acres of that has been placed in official federal trust, with more acres likely to be included soon.
Karen Diver, Fond du Lac chairwoman, has said rebuilding the band's ownership of the reservation is a top priority to provide land for band members to hunt and gather, for logging, to build homes and preserve wildlife habitat.
Several St. Louis County commissioners have raised objections to more trust-status land because the band doesn't pay property taxes on trust land. That makes less money available for the county to spend and, in theory, could cause taxes for other property owners to go up.
So far, however, federal officials have eventually approved all trust requests despite any objections, Krohn said.
The St. Louis County Land Department remains under orders from the County Board not to sell county land to the Fond du Lac Band.