About 187,000 acres of northern Minnesota forest, wetlands and shoreline will be permanently protected and open to public hunting, fishing and other recreational uses under an agreement signed Wednesday by Blandin Paper Co. and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

THE CONSERVATION EASEMENTS purchased by the state will also provide a number of land and water safeguards, no matter who owns the land in the future, and the agreement preserves existing hiking, snowmobile and ATV trails. Blandin can still harvest timber from the land, but no development will be permitted and the land can't be subdivided.

THE COST OF THE PACKAGE is $45 million, including $36 million from funds raised by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment. Another $9 million is being provided by the Conservation Fund. The project was the cornerstone of $68.6 million in expenditures for 19 projects recommended by the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council. The council advises the Legislature on how to spend the dollars dedicated to fish and wildlife that are generated by the amendment.

"We now have a binding agreement for the perpetual protection of some of the state's largest public access recreational lands," said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. He called it "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''

THE CLOSING DATE for the deal will be next year, when Outdoor Heritage funds will be fully available.