In 2005, the Blandin Foundation awarded $6.25 million in seed capital and program support to create a fund to purchase conservation easements on up to 75,000 acres of forestland in the Itasca County Area.
Partnering organizations include: The Conservation Fund, Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, MN Deer Hunters Association, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, MN Dept of Natural Resources, and Minnesota Forest Industries.
Goals of the partnership include:
- Support forest industry related jobs in manufacturing, logging, equipment, and related businesses, as well as jobs in other sectors tied to the resource such as tourism, hospitality, recreation, and special forest products.
- Ensure sustainable forestry, protect wildlife habitat, water quality and guarantee public access on private forestland in Itasca County.
- Leverage the $6M Blandin investment with $11-$20M from other sources to capitalize the fund.
- Stem the recent trend of large-scale forestland sales and subdivisions in Minnesota.
- Span the Upper Mississippi river basin and watershed and connect major tracts of public land.
To date, over 52,000 acres of industrial forestland have been placed in two working forest conservation easements, Sugar Hills and the Koochiching-Washington and monitored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
In March 2009, Blandin Foundation Trustees approved a $7 million grant in support of the Upper Mississippi Forest conservation easement – 187,000 acres of forest land in Itasca County and other northern Minnesota counties.