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Savings Minnesota’s forests for future generations of students

Long-term public school revenues are in jeopardy.
Image by Sarah Mai

As a forest and climate ecologist in Minnesota, I am worried that the 2.5 million acres of School Trust land managed by Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources are not prepared for climate change. By law, these lands are managed to create revenue for Minnesota’s public schools — but durable, long-term revenue streams from natural resources require strong climate action.

With rising temperatures, northern forests are undergoing rapid changes. Profitable tree species like aspen and spruce are declining or will decline with hot summers exacerbated by droughts, wildfires and pests. This jeopardizes future revenue for public schools.

We need proactive management that makes these forests resilient to a changing climate. Gov. Tim Walz’s (DFL) Climate Action Framework offers valuable guidance for enhancing forest resilience, but it needs to be adopted at scale on School Trust lands. Incorporating climate-adaptive strategies, such as conserving old-growth forests, planting heat-tolerant southerly species and safeguarding peatlands, can bolster resilience against climate change while sustaining public education funding. Enrolling old-growth forests and peatlands in carbon markets offers a path to generating revenue while conserving carbon-rich ecosystems.

In truth, climate adaptation efforts may slow immediate revenue, but climate-resilient forests can yield better longer-term value.

It is also worth stressing that more than 150,000 acres of School Trust land are inside Tribal reservation boundaries, with Tribal schools receiving no School Trust revenue for the last 150 years. As a Minnesota resident, I think the state needs to start disbursing Trust revenue to Tribal schools and support sole or shared Tribal management of these lands. As an ecologist, this has added value because Tribes are leading the way in climate-adaptive land management.

With these actions, Minnesota can support climate-smart land management while conserving public education revenue into the future for all of our students.

Samuel P. Reed is an IonE Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and USGS Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. The views expressed here are his own.

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  • Jim DeVries
    Mar 25, 2024 at 11:43 am

    Tribal schools are federally funded. Only MN schools should receive forest land funding.