MN VOICES | Former miner and school teacher lobby against national forest land swap

Bob and Pat Tammen rolled into the Twin Cities in their sturdy mobile home on January 5 to attend the Parents United for Public Schools legislative kickoff. They planned to stay in town over the weekend so that they could head to the capitol to make some noise about an issue that both of them care deeply about: making sure Minnesota doesn’t go ahead with a land swap deal that would open up national forest land to mining companies in exchange for funding for Minnesota public schools.

 The Land Swap
Bill H.R. 544 was initiated by former Congressional representative Chip Cravaak last May. The bill directs the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to complete a land exchange between state-owned land within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and federally-owned lands in Lake Superior National Forest. The deal would allow revenue gathering activities (read: copper mining) to benefit the public school system. Though it passed the house, was killed in the Senate in September. Still, there are signs that the proposed bill might have new life, with St. Louis County voting in favor of the proposal, and a number of Greater Minnesota political leaders pushing for it. State Senator Tom Bakk and State Representative Dave Dill are two DFL politicians that Bob considers “fairly progressive,” but at the same time haven’t been effective in stopping the land swap, he said. 

Bob started working in the mines in 1969, near the couple’s home in Soudan. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in my lifetime,” he said. The trains are gone, and new technology has revolutionized the industry. Plus, the productivity of the mines has doubled. When he first started, there were no women working in the mines. His wife, Pat, thinks productivity increased when women were allowed jobs in the mines.

While Bob worked in the mines, Pat worked for the Ely school district, until she retired in the 1990s. Now the couple act as advocates against the mining industry in what they see as a foolhardy plan to destroy public lands for not enough return to education.

Though Bob spent most of his career working as an electrician in the taconite mines near Soudan, he opposes copper mining. He said that, according to most sources, the mining deal would generate about $26 per student, per year.  “It’s phony to sell school trust land for such a small amount,” he said. The couple both see the land swap as a bad deal, particularly since the bill allows for no environmental restrictions.

Bob and Pat are pretty much the sweetest couple you’ve ever seen. Bob does most of the talking, but they both deliver their message with a cheerful serenity. “You have to be diplomatic,” Bob said. And persistent. That’s not a problem for the couple, who can stay in their mobile home until they get their message across, before traveling back to Soudan.


1/11/2013 CORRECTION: It's National Forest land, not park land, as the commenter points out. 

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.


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It's not national park land. It's a national forest. Important distinction.

Thanks for profiling two of the most amazing people in Minnesota!

School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters

Opposition to an exchange of School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters has been with the assumption that mining is the only source of revenue that would be considered for these traded lands. Not true. Revenue comes from leases, timber sales, rock and gravel pits, and yes mining.

Bob Tammen stated that a land exchange of the School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters would generate about $26 per student, per year, and saying “It’s phony to sell school trust land for such a small amount.”

Small amount? There are 2637 schools in Minnesota with 842,854 students. At $26 per student per year, that amounts to $21,914,204 additionally to all Minnesota schools.

In a recent report from the Minnesota DNR:

Mining activity generated $51 million in mineral revenue in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The figure represents a 44 percent increase over last year’s record of 35.5 million.

Ninety-seven percent of the revenue was derived from iron ore production, while other metallic minerals, peat, industrial minerals (dimension stone or granite) generated the remaining funds.

Mineral revenue was generated from three primary classifications: school trust lands; university trust lands; tax-forfeited lands.

$34 million from school trust lands.

$12.5 million from university trust lands.

$4.5 million from tax forfeited lands.

Nearly 65 percent of the total acreage of School Trust Lands is located in just three counties (Koochiching, St. Louis, and Itasca) where iron ore and non-ferrous formations are the most plentiful.

The Permanent School Fund balance is about $800 million. It includes revenue from school trust land sales, leases, timber harvest and royalties from mineral leases since the fund’s creation.

Minnesota is the country’s leader in iron ore production, providing 80 percent of all of the iron ore used to make steel in the U.S. and Canada.

The DNR’s Division of Lands and Minerals currently estimates that three nonferrous metallic mineral deposits identified as potential mines could generate $2.4 billion in added revenue to the Permanent School Fund over the life of the mines.

Now that is NOT exactly a small amount of money for Minnesota schools. Many Minnesota schools are in communities that don’t have the tax revenues for maintenance, courses and programs. Additional money going into the School Trust Fund would help these schools tremendously.

93,000 acres of School Trust Lands have been locked up in the Boundary Waters since the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Logging had only been allowed on the portal zone of the Boundary Waters until 1983.Then logging was banned in these areas because the portal zone had been added to the Boundary Waters with the passage of the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act. School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters have not been generating revenue for our schools in all these years.

According to Minnesota Statute 127A.31, the goal of the Permanent School Fund is to secure the maximum long-term economic return from the school trust lands. If management decisions were found to be producing less than adequate income from certain trust lands, the trust fund would have to be compensated in some way for the loss of revenue.

School Trust Lands Fund should have been compensated all these years (42 yrs) from the federal government, but it has not.

In the mid 1990s, there was an effort for a federal buyout of the School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters. Representative David Dill pointed out that the Constitutional Convention of 1857 discussed the handling of school lands, and it was determined that if the lands were sold, it must be at public auction or be traded for land of equal value. Environmental groups didn’t like the idea of a private person owning land in the Boundary Waters so the idea of a federal buyout died.

This issue should have been addressed by Congressman Oberstar, but he didn’t do anything.

A so-called Working Group that was to include all shareholders in a discussion of School Trust Lands exchange included the Friends of the Boundary Waters but did not include Conservationists with Common Sense.

As a result, the Iron Range legislative delegation introduced legislation that was signed into law by Governor Dayton. Congressman Chip Cravaack introduced legislation, H.R. 5544 was the same as supported by the Iron Range legislative delegation. H.R. 5544 does not require NEPA environmental analysis, and it was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Neither Senator Klobuchar nor Senator Franken introduced companion legislation is the Senate.

Environmental groups are crying foul, but several similar land exchanges have taken place over the years.

In previous land exchanges Fall Lake Township has benefitted.

In 1987, Lake County received 1500 acres in the Fernberg Corridor, which is a large part of the Glipi Road County Forest.

In 1991, Fall Lake Township had requested lands adjacent to the Tomahawk Snowmobile Trail but the Forest Service denied this request. Land was acquired in Township 57, Range 9 instead.

In 1995, The BWCAW land exchange resulted in the land purchase of River Point and Roaring Stony Resorts in Stony River Township by their previous special use permit holders. Lake County traded Rifle and Lake Four lakeshore for the lakeshore of these two resorts.

In 2010, Lake County will acquire federal timberlands in Township 56, Range 9 and some federal lands in Fall Lake Township.

None of the above exchanges of Lake County lands in the Boundary Waters were opposed by environmental groups.