Accelerated protection of grassland and prairie habitat with Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and Native Prairie Bank (NPB) easements

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2015 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
$5,450,000
Fund Source
Outdoor Heritage Fund
Recipient
DNR and BWSR
Recipient Type
State Government
Status
In Progress
Start Date
July 2014
End Date
June 2018
Activity Type
Land Acquisition
Legal Citation / Subdivision
ML 2014, Ch.256, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 2(e)
Appropriation Language

$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.

2015 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
$5,450,000
Other Funds Leveraged
$0
Direct expenses
$5,413,000
Administration costs
$37,000
Number of full time equivalents funded
1.35
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Wetland and upland complexes will consist of native prairies, restored prairies, quality grasslands, and restored shallow lakes and wetlands - Using the MN Prairie Plan framework, habitat complex's will be targeted for protection; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Protected, restored, and enhanced nesting and migratory habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need - Using the MN Prairie Plan framework, habitat complex's and corridors will be targeted for protection; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - Using the MN Prairie Plan framework, protection of native prairie will be top priority; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Key core parcels are protected for fish, game and other wildlife - Using the MN Prairie Plan framework, key parcels in core areas will be targeted for protection; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Expiring CRP lands are permanently protected - The scoring for process for RIM easements gives a preference to protecting expiring CRP; the resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Remnant native prairies and wetlands are perpetually protected and adequately buffered - Native Prairie Bank easements will target remnant prairies, but also enroll adjoining lands as a buffer; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - Using the MN Prairie Plan framework, protection of native prairie will be top priority; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for migratory and unique Minnesota species - Using the MN Prairie Plan framework, habitat complex's and corridors will be targeted for protection; resulting acres will be tracked and reportable..

Project Overview

The Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and the Native Prairie Bank (NPB) programs (NPB) are coordinating to accelerate grassland protection efforts. This proposal will enroll 520 RIM acres and 600 NPB acres. Enrollment will focus on Minnesota Prairie Plan identified landscapes.

About the Issue

The loss of native prairie and grassland habitat is arguably the greatest conservation challenge facing western and southern Minnesota. This proposal aims to protect 1120 acres of prairie and grassland habitat by coordinating and accelerating the enrollment of Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and the Native Prairie Bank (NPB) easements. This level of acceleration is needed to address today's rapid loss of grassland habitat and meet the goals set forth in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.

The National Agriculture Statistics Service reports that grassland conversion to corn and soybeans across a significant portion of the Western Corn Belt is comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. In fact, the rate of grassland-to-cropland conversion in the Corn Belt has not been this high since the 1920s and 1930s, the era of rapid mechanization of America’s agriculture. Minnesota was once a land of 18 million acres of prairie, today less than 2 percent remains. The few acres of native prairie that remain where once thought of as too rocky or wet for row crops – not anymore. 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. Even the last 25-years of investments to restore grasslands with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) stands to be lost. There was once 1.9 million acres of CRP in Minnesota; today that amount is about 1.4 million acres. Since 2007 Minnesota has lost 425,000 acres of CRP and another 625,000 acres of CRP is scheduled to expire over the next five years. Together, that’s a land mass roughly the size of Rhode Island. If the current trajectory of grassland and prairie loss continues it will be devastating to grassland wildlife populations, including pollinator species.

Recognizing that protecting grassland and wetland habitat is the one of the most critical environmental challenges facing Minnesota, over a dozen leading conservation organizations have 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 the Reinvest in Minnesota Program (RIM) and the Native Prairie Bank Program (NPB). In 1986, the Reinvest in Minnesota Resources Act was enacted to restore certain marginal and environmental sensitive agricultural land to protect soil and water quality and support fish and wildlife habitat. To date over 6,000 RIM easements have been enrolled, covering more than 250,000 acres. The RIM Program currently focuses on permanent wetland restoration, adjacent native grassland wildlife habitat complexes and permanent riparian buffers. 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 landowners.  To date 111 NPB easements have been enrolled, covering about 8990 acres. The NPB Program targets protection of native prairie lands, placing highest priority on diverse native plant communities, rare species habitats and lands that are part of a larger prairie complex.

Between the current 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 the RIM and NPB programs are re-tooling to better address today’s threat of prairie, grassland and wetland loss. A strong infusion of new funding and targeting enrollment to priority landscapes will better position these programs to deliver the outcomes called for in the Minnesota Prairie Plan. Specifically this proposal will enroll 520 acres of RIM easements and 600 acres of Native Prairie Bank easements. These acres will be focused on priority landscapes identified in the Minnesota Prairie Plan. Local Technical Teams comprised of local conservation organizations have already been assembled and eagerly await funding to deliver these programs to willing landowners.

Project Manager
First Name
Jason
Last Name
Garms
Organization Name
MN DNR
Street Address
500 Lafayette Rd
City
Saint Paul
State
MN
Zip Code
55155
Phone
(651) 259-5130
Email
jason.garms@state.mn.us