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Who should manage school trust lands?

Following a model used in Utah, Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) is proposing that an independent agency, separate from the Department of Natural Resources, be created to manage the 2.5 million acres of permanent school trust lands.

Dittrich sponsors HF435, which would create the Permanent School Trust Lands Administration by July 1, 2013, to govern the land. The House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee held an informational hearing on the bill. It has no Senate companion.

“The DNR has an inherent conflict of interest determined by their own mission. They are to focus on preserving the environment and conservation, and that is perfect for what their department is, but I don’t believe that is perfect for the management of the school trust lands,” Dittrich said.

Among the administration’s duties would be to demonstrate undivided loyalty, to furnish information to the beneficiaries, and to keep trust property separate from other property. Dittrich said the DNR has demonstrated increasing management costs and no relative fund increases, attained primarily through forestry and mineral rights.

With the majority of the school trust lands in the northeastern region of the state, a recent proposal to exchange land with the federal government that included an additional cash payment was met with mixed opinion and may not even be constitutional.

“We don’t want the money, we want the land,” Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) said referencing the school trust land in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Some constituents consider the BWCA land “untouchable,” he said.

Members also suggested that those who hunt on school trust lands be charged rent to use the land or to sell the land outright to nature organizations. Dittrich said these varying opinions are precisely why her bill would require one school trust fund administrator to act on behalf of the school children in Minnesota.

“We do need to get somebody advocating for these lands and clear up the statute to solidify to (the DNR) what we think should happen along the way of these lands,” said Committee Chairman Denny McNamara (R-Hastings).

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