Accelerated Aquatic Management Area Habitat Program, Phase 3
$6,500,000 the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire interests in land in fee or permanent conservation easements for aquatic management areas under Minnesota Statutes, sections 86A.05, subdivision 14, and 97C.02, to restore and enhance aquatic habitat. A list of proposed acquisitions and stream and lake habitat restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan. The accomplishment plan must include an easement monitoring and enforcement plan.
Protect in fee 504 acres, easement 585 acres and Restore/Enhance 537 acres of Habitats
We protected 22.3 miles of trout streams and 1.3 miles of lakeshore via easements (585 acres in total), and 7.4 miles (504 acres) of lakeshore through fee-title purchase. We enhanced shoreline habitat on 524 acres of riparian land, and instream habitat on 3.1 miles of trout streams and 0.5 miles of warmwater rivers.
Final Report: http://www.lsohc.leg.mn/FY2012/accomp_plan/5a.pdf
Protection of streams through conservation easements was enabled by the hiring of two easement specialists to work on acquisition. One position was funded through OHF, while the other leveraged funds from a Great Lakes Restoration grant. These positions contacted riparian landowners in targeted locations we prioritized for additional easement protection. We chose to target streams with high-quality habitat and fish populations, and along those streams we prioritized parcels that were adjacent to existing easements or protected public land, as well as landowners who owned parcels with longer lengths of stream. We also prioritized parcels with important features such as springs that are important to maintaining the cold water required by trout. All easements also needed to be accessible to the angling public, either from a public road, adjacent easement, or access path. Contacts with landowners were very fruitful; we found more potential parcels that we had money available for easements. This allowed us to prioritize the best parcels for easement purchase based on our criteria, but also created a list of potential parcels for acquisition using other funding sources, including OHF rounds from future years. We protected a total of 21.3 miles of trout streams using easements.
One lakeshore parcel was also protected via conservation easement using this appropriation. The landowners (a scout camp) wanted the parcel protected, but also wanted to continue their passive use of the parcel. A conservation easement was a better tool than fee title acquisition in this case, which allowed us to protect 200 acres along 1.3 miles of lakeshore. The total amount of lake and stream shore acres protected by easements was just short of our goal (585 vs. 609), but we believe in the case of lake and stream riparian protection the length of shoreline is the more important measure.
Fee title acquisition protected a total of 7.4 miles of lakeshore (504 acres) under this appropriation. We selected parcels for acquisition where the ratio of lakeshore to total acres was high in order to maximize riparian area protected, and where we protected critical and sensitive habitat such as emergent vegetation and natural shorelines that are critical for aquatic fish and wildlife. We were able to exceed our goal for acres protected in fee (504 vs. 427), in part due to over $550,000 in landowner donations of value that leveraged OHF money.
We completed four stream habitat projects: two were on trout streams (Eagle and Rush Creeks), and two were on a warmwater rivers (Buffalo and Pomme de Terre Rivers). Eagle Creek had been degraded by years of cattle grazing, along with numerous beaver dams that had created a wide, shallow stream uninhabited by trout, unlike downstream reaches with better habitat. Using a combination of coir logs, rootwads and other woody debris, and grading and revegetating of the streambanks, the stream was narrowed to less than half of its former width. This created a much deeper stream channel with better habitat for fish, as well as the ability for the stream to better move the over-abundance of sand that comprised the stream bottom. Trout are now found in the restored half-mile of stream. The local watershed district contributed matching funds that helped to complete the project.
Rush Creek habitat work has enhanced 2.5 miles of this trout stream. Steep eroding banks have been graded back, creating a floodplain that reduces the erosive energy of the stream during high water. Habitat structures of wood and rock have been placed in strategic locations on outside bends, providing stability to streambanks as well as cover for fish. All riparian areas have been seeded with a native mix of deep-rooted prairie grasses and forbs, providing enhanced stability for streambanks and habitat for terrestrial wildlife.
Restoration of a reach of the Buffalo River was done on property owned by the City of Hawley. A formerly straightened reach of the river, the stream had eroding banks and lacked diverse depths, velocities, and cover required by most fish species. 2,700 feet of new meandering stream channel was constructed to restore the stream to a more natural condition, and outside bends were stabilized with woody material buried into the banks which not only provides stability while planted native vegetation becomes established, but also provides habitat for fish and aquatic insects.
Enhancement work on the Pomme de Terre River was done on a relatively small area, but was critical to habitat in that reach. Due to bank erosion, the stream was in the process of cutting around a riffle that controls the grade of the streambed in that reach. That could have eventually lead to a downcutting of the stream channel that would have sent tons of sediment downstream. Instead, the streambank was stabilized using rootwads, and additional gravel and cobbles were added to the riffle to enhance its stability, as well as local habitat.