Accelerated protection of grassland and prairie habitat with Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and Native Prairie Bank (NPB) easements
Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and Native Prairie Bank (NPB) coordinated to accelerate grassland protection efforts. Through this appropriation a total of 1,584 acres were protected. This included 604 RIM acres and 980 NPB acres. Easement acquisition focused on Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan identified landscapes.
The loss of native prairie and grassland habitat is arguably the greatest conservation challenge facing western and southern Minnesota. This appropriation aimed to protect 1,120 acres of prairie and grassland habitat by coordinating and accelerating the enrollment of Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and the Native Prairie Bank (NPB) easements. Not only were the protection outcomes met but they were exceeded by 464 acres, for a total of 1,584 acres of prairie and grassland habitat protection.
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 environmental challenges facing Minnesota, over a dozen leading conservation organizations developed a blue print for moving forward – the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. This plan calls for several outcomes, including the protection of all remaining native prairie and the protection other grasslands through conservation easements. The two primary, state administered easement programs identified to accomplish this are Reinvest in Minnesota Program (RIM) and Native Prairie Bank Program (NPB). Between the historic priority lands for RIM and NPB enrollment lies a mix or restored grasslands and low diversity remnant prairies – without any protection from conversion. In order to achieve the Minnesota Prairie Plans goals this appropriation allowed RIM and NPB to re-tool to better address prairie, grassland and wetland threats.
Originally, this appropriation aimed to enroll 520 acres of RIM easements and 600 acres of Native Prairie Bank easements. These acres were to be focused on priority landscapes identified in the Minnesota Prairie Plan and Local Technical Teams, comprised of local conservation organizations, had already been assembled and eagerly awaited funding to deliver these programs to willing landowners. Ultimately, 8 high quality native prairie parcels for a total of 980 acres (380 acres more than initial 600 acre goal) were 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. Additionally, 8 RIM easements for a total of 604 acres (84 acres more than initial 520 acre goal) were acquired through this appropriation to protect key grasslands that help connect high priority conservation lands, thus working towards building the prairie complexes identified in the Minnesota Prairie Plan. Grasslands protected were ecologically evaluated and recommended by Prairie Plan Local Technical Teams, which are made up of multiple conservation organizations.
$3,000,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources and $2,450,000 in the second year is to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to implement the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan through acquisition of permanent conservation easements to protect native prairie and grasslands. Of these amounts, up to $112,000 to the Department of Natural Resources and up to $65,000 to the Board of Water and Soil Resources are for establishing monitoring and enforcement funds as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. Lands with easements acquired with this appropriation may not be used for emergency haying and grazing in response to federal or state disaster declarations. Conservation grazing under a management plan that is already being implemented may continue. Subject to the evaluation criteria under 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.
1,584 acres protected in easement