The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has hired an attorney and real estate expert to fill a new job overseeing school trust lands.

Aaron Vande Linde was hired recently as the DNR’s School Trust Land administrator. He will provide the DNR with strategic direction and oversight of the agency’s management of 2.5 million acres of school trust lands, and 1 million acres of state-owned severed mineral rights.

School trust lands, located mostly in the state’s northern half, are not DNR lands and their primary purpose is different from other state-owned public lands. School trust lands are managed as a source of income for the state’s Permanent School Trust Fund, which generates interest and dividends for the state’s public schools.

The history of school trust lands goes back to Minnesota statehood in 1858. That is when the federal government granted land to the state to generate income for public schools. The Legislature has delegated management of school trust lands to the DNR, which manages them to produce revenue for the Permanent School Trust Fund through various methods including timber harvest and mineral extraction.

The DNR recently developed a new plan for improved and focused management of these lands. One of those actions included hiring a new administrator to oversee policies and strategic uses of the lands. There is also renewed legislative interest to maximize returns from school trust lands, and legislation passed in 2012 is consistent with the DNR’s plan to maximize the economic return on school trust lands in a sustainable way.

Among Vande Linde’s duties are to develop and execute a business plan for trust-land management and revenues. He will also oversee a new inventory and best-use analysis of trust lands.

“As the trustee for school trust lands, it’s the DNR’s fiduciary duty to find best uses for the lands to benefit the Permanent School Trust Fund,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Vande Linde’s job will be to bring best business practices, central oversight and better coordination of DNR’s management of these lands.”

Since 2009, Vande Linde has worked as the DNR’s transactions manager in the Division of Lands and Minerals, where he oversaw the real estate and mineral lease program. He has a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law. He assumed his new duties on Aug. 29.

School trust lands are open to the public. Revenue from the 2.5 million acres of school trust lands comes from mineral leases, timber sales, utility licenses, easements, state forest campground fees and occasional sales of parcels.

The state’s Permanent School Trust Fund is worth about $800 million. In fiscal year 2011, school trust lands generated net revenue of $23 million for the fund. The fund’s interest and dividends are distributed to public schools annually. On average, the Permanent School Trust Fund provides K-12 schools with about $23 million annually, or about three-tenths of 1 percent of Minnesota’s public schools’ annual budget of $8.5 billion.

More information about the Permanent School Trust Fund and DNR management of school trust lands is available online.

Logo courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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