Rukavina’s still battling for school kids

The smallest guy left at the table hasn’t given up on doing what’s right for the school kids in Minnesota, but it appears St. Louis County Commissioner is the last man standing.
Former State Rep. Tom Rukavina isn’t one to back down from a fight. He’s known for his combative nature and knowledge of the issues that affect northeast Minnesota.
The potential land swap of state lands within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area actually impacts the entire state. But the crickets are sounding from St. Paul and other elected officials.
Rukavina is concerned the county board may have given too much when a resolution was passed to approve a hybrid proposal that includes a land swap and purchase procedure.
There are 83,000 acres of state school trust land that has been locked up in the BWCA since 1964. This hybrid proposal would swap 31,000 acres of federal land outside the BWCA for 31,000 acres of state school trust land inside the BWCA. The non-profit Conservation Fund would supposedly buy 52,000 acres of land owned by Potlatch and exchange those parcels for the remaining state lands in the BWCA. The feds will then buy the 52,000 acres from the Conservation Fund.
The resolution actually is missing a key component: actual numbers. There is no mention of the 31,000 acres at all. The only number listed is the 83,000 in total acres. In a worse-case scenario it could be there are no state lands swapped for federal lands. The resolution would provide for a scenario where the only exchange is done through a purchase. This, of course, is not what was written in the 1964 Wilderness Act which says lands “shall by exchanged.”
Rukavina voted for the original resolution authored by Frank Jewell, who has been in effect representing groups like Friends of the Boundary Waters. Jewell has even involved the Heart of the Continent Partnership which wasn’t supposed to be political since it includes staff from the DNR and Forest Service.
On Tuesday Rukavina made a valiant attempt to hold everyone’s feet to the fire.
A one-sentence addition to the resolution read, “Further resolved, the St. Louis County Board’s support for the Plan B model is predicated on there being a signed exchange agreement between the State of Minnesota and the U.S. Forest Service on the hybrid purchase exchange plan.”
Rukavina’s analogy: “Either we’re moving together or we’re not moving at all.”
Jewell wasn’t going along with it and even commissioner Pete Stauber, who supports a land swap only path, voted against Rukavina’s resolution. The final vote was one for, six against with Rukavina being the only vote in favor. Again he stands alone.
We’d like to see that change. Whether you like Tommy or not, he’s right on this issue. We need to hear from Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Rob Ecklund. They need to set aside any differences and step up to the plate to make sure the school kids aren’t short-changed in the end.
The 83,000 acres of state school trust land has been locked up in the BWCA for the last 53 years. The state is supposed to be managing those lands for timber or minerals or leases or whatever generates monies for the School Trust Fund. That hasn’t happened.
Rukavina has been trying to change that for decades and even he’s admitted the fight has been going on long enough. Did he settle for less by agreeing to Jewell’s resolution? Probably. But when you’re the only one fighting for years and years and years, getting some type of solution in place is very enticing.
On the record the Friends of the Boundary Waters oppose any land exchange since that “would facilitate future mining projects.” That group wants to see a buyout, a one-time payment to the state’s School Trust Fund.
Cook County has already voted in favor of the hybrid plan. However, there is one holdout, Lake County. The board there has refused to give in. So far. Other players have given in, though.
A letter of support of the hybrid plan from the Minnesota Forest Resources Council listed one of the objectives of the land exchange being to protect habitat for the lynx, long-eared bat and gray wolf. This has nothing to do with school trust lands and makes no sense. It sounds like something the Friends would write, not a letter from a group that advises the governor and the legislature on forestry matters.
Even the head of the DNR, Commissioner Tom Landwehr, appears to not understand what his agency is supposed to be doing.
In a letter to the Forest Service advocating for the hybrid plan, Landwehr said, “The distinct advantage of Plan B is that it preserves Minnesota’s wood basket and the jobs associated with the timber and recreation industries that are the basis of the northern Minnesota economy.”
“What does recreation have to do with monies for school kids? They still don’t get it after 30 years of me screaming about it,” said an exasperated Rukavina.
In 2008 the number being used for the acre for acre straight exchange was 48,000 acres, that was reduced to 41,000 acres when there was opposition to the inclusion of any federal lands north of the Tomahawk Road being included. Then the Forest Service lowered the number to 39,000 acres to choose 31,000 acres out of. Now the environmental groups are trying to get the 31,000 figure reduced to 25,000 acres.
As Rukavina says, the goal posts are continually being moved and it could be as little as 5,000 acres the way things are going. There’s no doubt the Friends et al don’t want to trade any federal land outside the BWCA for state lands. The more federal land there is, the more opportunities for these groups to sue in federal court versus state court.
Keep up the fight, Tommy, we believe you are doing the right thing. Our hope is that he won’t end up being the only voice in the wilderness.