Accelerated Native Prairie Bank Protection - Phase IV
The Native Prairie Bank Program perpetually protected via conservation easement 1,342 acres of native prairie from willing landowners. This exceeds the original outcome goal of 760 acres by 582 acres. Easement acquisition focused on Minnesota Prairie Plan identified landscapes and targeted 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 appropriation aimed to protect 760 acres of native prairie habitat by accelerating the enrollment of Native Prairie Bank easements. Not only were the prairie protection outcomes met but they were exceeded by 582 acres.
Acceleration, such as this, is necessary to address the loss of native prairie and associated grasslands. Today, only about 1.3% of Minnesota’s original 18 million acres of prairie remains. The few remaining acres of native prairie once were thought of as unsuitable for crop production, however with advancements in technology and equipment, in addition to growing competition for tillable acres, this is no longer the case. Unfortunately, grassland-to-cropland conversion is not the only impact to native prairie, significant degradation and loss is also occurring due to property development, mineral extraction and lack of prairie-oriented management. 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 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 easement. Native Prairie Bank was established by the 1987 legislature to protect private native prairie lands by authorizing the state to acquire conservation easements from willing landowners. Native Prairie Bank targets the protection of native prairie tracts, but can also include adjoining lands as buffers and additional habitat.
Originally, this appropriation aimed to protect 760 acres of native prairie through Native Prairie Bank easements. Eligible tracts were to be located within priority landscapes identified in the Minnesota Prairie Plan and prioritized based on several evaluation 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
Ultimately, 10 native prairie parcels for a total of 1,342 acres (582 acres more than initial 760 acre goal) were perpetually protected through this appropriation via Native Prairie Bank Easements. These now protected native prairies are unique natural resources that consist of thousands of different organisms, plants, animals, bacteria and soil fungi. Their complex interactions provide the food, water and shelter required by many of Minnesota’s rare, threatened and endangered species. These prairies house a wide variety of pollinator species, some of which often cannot survive in other habitats, including prairie restorations.
$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.
Protected 1,342 acres (in easement)