Accelerated Native Prairie Bank Protection - Phase IV
$3,740,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to implement the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan through the acquisition of permanent conservation easements to protect native prairie and grasslands. Up to $165,000 is for establishing monitoring and enforcement funds as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. Subject to evaluation criteria in Minnesota Rules, part 6136.0900, priority must be given to acquisition of lands that are eligible for the native prairie bank under Minnesota Statutes, section 84.96, or lands adjacent to protected native prairie. A list of permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the final report.
Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - - Acres of native prairie protected from conversion - Acres of native prairie protected with high connectivity to other conservation lands - Acres protected within Prairie Plan Core and Corridor Areas - Average size of protected complex.Remnant native prairies and wetlands are perpetually protected and adequately buffered - - Acres of native prairie protected from conversion - Acres of native prairie protected with connectivity to other conservation lands - Acres protected within Prairie Plan Core and Corridor Areas - Average size of protected complex.
The Native Prairie Bank Program will work with willing landowners to enroll 760 acres of native prairie in perpetual easements. Enrollment will focus on Minnesota Prairie Plan identified landscapes and target high quality prairies that provide valuable wildlife habitat.
The loss of native prairie and associated grassland habitat is arguably the greatest conservation challenge facing western and southern Minnesota. This proposal aims to permanently protect 760 acres of native prairie habitat by accelerating the enrollment of Native Prairie Bank easements.
This acceleration is necessary to address today's rapid loss of native prairie and associated grasslands and meet the habitat protection goals set forth in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. Minnesota was once a land of 18 million acres of prairie, today about 1.3 percent remains. The few acres of native prairie that remain in Minnesota may have once been thought of as too rocky or wet for row crops – not anymore. The Midwest is experiencing a rate of grassland-to-cropland conversion in the Corn Belt that has not been seen since the 1920s and 1930s, the era of rapid mechanization of America’s agriculture. The current combination of low interest rates, high corn and soybean prices and ever-increasing yields per acre make it economically attractive to convert even marginal lands that were never before deemed tillable. If the current trajectory of grassland and prairie loss continues it will be devastating to grassland dependent wildlife populations.
Recognizing that protecting grassland and wetland habitat is the one of the most critical conservation challenges facing Minnesota, over a dozen leading conservation organizations have developed a road map for moving forward – the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. This plan calls for several outcomes, one being the protection of all remaining native prairie, largely through conservation easements. One of the primary easement tools for native prairie protection in Minnesota is the DNR administered Native Prairie Bank Program easement program. The Native Prairie Bank Program was established by the 1987 legislature to protect private native prairie lands by authorizing the state to acquire conservation easements from willing landowners. To date 113 Native Prairie Bank easements have been enrolled into the program, covering a little over 9,000 acres. The Native Prairie Bank Program targets the protection of native prairie tracts, but can also include adjoining lands as buffers and additional habitat. Eligible tracts are prioritized based on several factors including:
1) Size and quality of habitat, focusing on diverse native prairie communities that have been identified by the Minnesota Biological Survey
2) The occurrence of rare species, or suitability habitat for rare species
3) Lands that are part of a larger habitat complex
Native Prairie Bank easements provide enduring, long-term protection to prairie habitat by placing restrictions on future land use, including, but not limited to:
1) No topographic changes or alterations to the natural landscape (plow, drain, fill, etc.)
2) No dumping trash or garbage
3) Motor vehicle use limited to management purposes (weed control, prescribed burning, etc.)
4) No drawing of water for irrigation or other uses
5) No building or placing of structures on the protected property
6) No subdivision or dividing of the parcel
7) No introduction of invasive species
8) No pesticide use without DNR approval
In addition, a Native Prairie Bank easement grants the DNR the right to enter the property to manage the prairie as needed, as well as monitor and enforce the easements terms/conditions.
To accelerate efforts, the Native Prairie Bank Program is coordinating with Minnesota Prairie Plan partners and using the network of established Local Technical Teams (LTT's) to reach out to landowners and increase program enrollment. The LTT's are local staff from SWCD's, NRCS, DNR, USFWS, The Nature Conservancy and Pheasants Forever - to name a few. The LTT's have already begun cultivating relationships with prairie landowners and eagerly await funding to deliver this program to willing landowners - there is a waiting list. The new enrollment of 760 acres will focus on priority landscapes identified in the Minnesota Prairie Plan, which directly coincides with the location of LTT's.