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Minnesota's abundant wildlife, clean water and rich green forests are some of its greatest assets, and we owe gratitude to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for stewarding these resources. And yet, there is a looming problem the DNR must overcome to protect resources into the future. Nearly 45% of DNR administered lands — or 2.5 million acres, an area bigger than Yellowstone National Park — are managed to prioritize short-term profits without preparing for climate change.

These lands are held in the Minnesota School Trust. By law, all revenue from minerals, timber and real estate sales on School Trust land is invested in the Permanent School Fund, with interest and dividends from this fund distributed to school districts in Minnesota. In the last 10 years, $327 million has been allocated to Minnesota public schools from the Permanent School Fund. No funds are returned to tribal schools, even though 150,000 acres of highly profitable School Trust land is within reservation boundaries.

By law, School Trust lands must be managed for "long-term revenue" under "sound natural resource conservation and management principles." As a forest ecologist and Minnesota resident, I'm concerned that the priority for short-term revenue without planning for climate change undermines sound management. Without adjustments to the management of these lands to climate change, I am skeptical the School Trust can support healthy future ecosystems and future generations of students.

As we experience one of the warmest winters on record, it is worth remembering that climate change is already negatively affecting northern forests. Tree species like aspen, fir and spruce are declining with warming temperatures and also happen to be critical for School Trust revenue. School Trust land management that ignores adapting northern forests to climate change — by increasing plant biodiversity or planting warm-adapted tree species — will undermine future revenue potential and erode forest quality. Instead, vulnerable tree species are planted or grown on School Trust land, even though they cannot tolerate the warmer temperatures that will occur within the tree's 50- to 60-year life. Further, there are no explicit climate adaptation plans for School Trust forests, and the most recent 25-year School Trust Asset Management Plan has few details about how to actually make School Trust forests climate-adaptive.

This lack of action to adjust management — and improve climate resilience — on School Trust lands is surprising given Gov. Tim Walz's Climate Action Framework (CAF). The CAF has an entire section of recommendations for improving the climate resilience of working forests. And yet, on School Trust land, the state is not incorporating climate adaptation measures. In contrast, the federal government is meaningfully acting on climate change, as exemplified by the Superior National Forest's new Forest Assisted Migration Plan that addresses the need for different tree species with a shifting climate. If the state's forest management decisions are already out of date in their lack of climate adaptation measures, they will fall even further behind in the coming years. The actions we take on School Trust lands now have ecological and financial ramifications for decades to come. Without adaptation action, timber revenue for public schools will be lost with dying or dead forests, and public education will have less financial support within Minnesota.

To this end, Walz and the Legislature should work with the DNR to incorporate the Minnesota Climate Action Framework's "Natural and Working Lands" recommendations at scale on School Trust lands. In addition, the Office of School Trust Land Management, the DNR's School Trust administrator and the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission should regularly consult organizations with deep climate adaptation expertise to guide their management decisions, such as the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center and the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership. Implementing knowledge from these organizations could vastly improve the health of northern forests in the face of climate change.

The DNR should also have School Trust lands participate in reputable carbon offset markets. Currently, the DNR sells "swamp" land for private development to generate profit if there are few trees to sell. However, many of these swamps are rich in wildlife and store more carbon than many forests due to their accumulated peat. Carbon offset markets would allow low-revenue School Trust lands to make money for public schools and reduce carbon emissions. Selling carbon offsets on School Trust land is not unheard of, either. The Washington state DNR has already started to conserve highly valuable and carbon-rich School Trust lands to make money for public education through carbon offsets.

Last, there are over 150,000 acres of School Trust land within tribal reservation boundaries, particularly within Leech Lake and White Earth. Tribes have not received any of the public education revenue from forest or mineral products harvested on their lands for the last 150 years. Further, many tribal land management agencies have highly detailed climate change plans and are on the forefront of climate adaptation planning. And although I cannot speak on behalf of any tribal entity, I believe the Legislature, the Land Exchange Board and the DNR should disperse Permanent School Funds to tribal schools, including back payment for lost revenue. The state should also ask permission to harvest resources on tribal lands and financially support sole or shared tribal management of all School Trust lands within reservation boundaries. A major motivation for these conversations can be righting historical wrongs and the pursuit of climate-smart forest management through tribal leadership.

Should Minnesota decide to implement Climate Action Framework guidelines on the 2.5 million acres of School Trust lands, there is potential to vastly improve climate-smart land management while also preserving and increasing public education revenue into the future. The climate is changing and we must act now so that the School Trust can support ecologically sound forestry, public education and slowing the pace of climate change.

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.