Accelerated Shallow Lake and Wetland Enhancement and Restoration Program, Phase 2
This programmatic partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Ducks Unlimited (DU) will accelerate enhancement, restoration, and protection of shallow lakes and wetlands important to waterfowl. This partnership will assess, design, and implement shallow lake and wetland enhancement, restoration, and protection projects to address the most important wetland issues facing waterfowl and other wetland wildlife in Minnesota. Every statewide conservation plan recognizes the need for improving and protecting Minnesota's shallow lakes and wetlands for wildlife habitat. The MN DNR Duck Recovery Plan calls for the enhancement and active management of 1,800 shallow lakes while adding 64,000 wetlands to Minnesota's landscape. DU,s Living Lakes conservation initiative supports this plan with a goal of improving 300 shallow lakes in Minnesota.
DNR and DU will accelerate partnership efforts to enhance, restore, and protect shallow lakes and wetlands through increased assessment and engineering plus funding for water structure construction and land control. Enhancing and properly managing shallow lakes and wetlands will involve three components: assessment and feasibility analysis (Pre-design), engineering survey, design, review, easements and permits (Design), and ultimately water structure installation (Construction). DU will also work with private landowners to permanently protect lands adjacent to shallow lakes through purchase of lands in and adjacent to large drained basins in fee-title to allow for restoration and/or through permanent conservation easements (Protection). In total, DNR and DU will conduct 200 assessments, work on developing 50 new projects including engineering designs, restore 63 acres, structurally enhance 7,172 acres, and protect 750 acres in fee-title. In the process, DNR may purchase small easements for water flowage and/or water control structure placement, and DU may purchase permanent conservation easements on shallow lake shoreline if needed and grant funding is available.
An estimated 90% of Minnesota's prairie wetlands have been lost, and those that remain are often larger basins that were more difficult to drain. Throughout the state, these shallow lakes and large wetlands provide critical habitat for wetland wildlife production and migration, especially for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent birds. High quality shallow lakes and wetlands have clear water and abundant rooted aquatic vegetation. Emergent aquatic plants such as rushes and wild rice provide protective cover from weather and predators and over-water nesting habitat, while submerged plants provide food in the form of seeds and tubers and critical habitat for aquatic invertebrates. An abundance of aquatic invertebrates such as insects, amphipods, and snails are critical for breeding ducks and for duckling growth and survival. Protein and carbohydrates from seeds and tubers are critical foods during both spring and fall migration. Seasonally flooded wetlands often fill these needs for shorebirds and dabbling ducks, particularly during spring. However, it is typically the larger, more permanent wetlands and shallow lakes that are important to diving ducks in spring and provide the most important fall habitat for all waterfowl.
However, the quality of shallow lakes and wetlands providing wildlife habitat has declined markedly due to landscape drainage and intensive agricultural land use, shoreline development, increased runoff carrying sediment and nutrients, and invasive plant and fish species. Invasive fish, such as bullheads, carp, and fathead minnows reduce the invertebrates and aquatic plants necessary for quality habitat. Highly altered landscape hydrology now allows these invasive fish to access and sustain populations in most of our remaining wetlands.
The worst damage has occurred within the prairie and transition portions of the state where conversion of habitat to other uses has degraded the watersheds of shallow lakes and associated wetlands. Restoration of wetland and grassland complexes restores habitat and reduces excessive runoff that can improve water quality. However, in-basin management is also needed to switch turbid shallow lakes back to their preferred clear water state. While watershed improvements benefit shallow lakes and wetlands, and both regulatory and voluntary programs to minimize and mitigate watershed degradation are ongoing by many conservation agencies, watershed work alone will not often switch turbid lakes to clear lakes and improve waterfowl habitat in them.
It is only through active water level management that simulates periodic droughts and stimulates aquatic plant growth combined with the removal of invasive fish that the quality of this important aquatic habitat can be rejuvenated and sustained into the future. Similar to the effects of periodic fires in upland prairie systems, temporary droughts in wetlands are essential to maintaining wetland productivity and to rejuvenating turbid shallow lakes. Water level variation drives wetland ecology, and has long been a well-established, science-based wetland management technique employed throughout the world.
This programmatic partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Ducks Unlimited (DU) will accelerate enhancement, restoration, and protection of shallow lakes and wetlands important to waterfowl. This partnership will assess, design, and implement shallow lake and wetland enhancement, restoration, and protection projects to address the most important wetland issues facing waterfowl and other wetland wildlife in Minnesota. Central to our work will be the feasibility analysis, design, and installation of water control structures, pumps, and fish barriers that will provide state and federal conservation agency land managers with the ability to conduct temporary water level draw-downs that simulate the natural hydrologic regimes that drive wetland ecology. All projects will be constructed on public land or land under permanent easement by state or federal agencies, and all projects will be managed by Minnesota DNR field staff or by field staff of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Other agencies and tribal interests will be consulted and queried for input as projects are assessed, designed, and implemented. This proposal is based on the best available shallow lake and wetland management science coupled with over four decades of experience by Minnesota DNR and over two decades of wetland engineering expertise by DU.
Specifically, at least 200 shallow lakes and wetlands will be assessed for their current condition and feasibility for needed improvement as determined by DNR and DU field staff. Meanwhile DNR and DU biologists and engineers will work on 50 shallow lake and wetland design projects to review and finalize engineering plans, obtain legal land rights and/or legal wildlife lake designation, obtain landowner and public support, and secure all necessary permits and approvals for future project implementation. DNR will develop shallow lake management plans with DU assistance and input. Landowner outreach will be conducted and public meetings held when needed to review, revise, and fully develop wetland structure projects for implementation, including wildlife lake designation public informational meetings and formal hearings. Finally, several wetland restoration projects will be implemented to restore 63 wetland acres, and 16 structural shallow lake and wetland enhancement projects will be constructed to allow managers to enhance over 7,000 wetland acres.
To make future restoration of drained wetlands and shallow lakes legally feasible, DU will attempt to purchase 750 acres of land in fee-title in and adjacent to a drained shallow lake basin from willing private landowners (grant funds will not be used to purchase land from watershed districts or public agencies as per direction received from the Council). The land will eventually be transferred to the Minnesota DNR or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Initial contacts with landowners and local governmental representatives have been favorable to preliminary land proposals, and county board approval will be sought before any land acquired is transferred to Minnesota DNR or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. DNR may purchase easements for water flowage and/or structure placement rights, if needed. Also, to protect managed shallow lakes subject to development, DU may also work with private landowners to explore opportunities for conservation easements, and may purchase or obtain donated permanent conservation easements that will be held and monitored in perpetuity by DU. Finally, DU will use grant funds over three years to coordinate and administer this grant. Budget reallocations up to 10% do not require an amendment to the Accomplishment Plan.
This grant was a programmatic partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Ducks Unlimited (DU) to accelerate enhancement, restoration, and protection of shallow lakes and wetlands important to waterfowl. In partnership, DU and DNR assessed shallow lake conditions through the Minnesota DNR Section of Wildlife Shallow Lakes Program, and designed and implemented shallow lake and wetland enhancement and restoration projects using water level control structures and other means. DU also implemented land protection projects via fee-title land acquisitions to improve and buffer wetland habitats used by waterfowl and other wetland-dependent wildlife in Minnesota.
Overall, DU and DNR completed 26 project affecting 7,603 acres. These included three wetland restoration projects restoring 97 acres, 18 shallow lake enhancement projects enhancing 7,154 wetland acres, and five fee-title land acquisition projects protecting 352 acres. DNR also completed 317 shallow lake assessment surveys to document current ecological conditions and help justify future shallow lake enhancement projects, while DU staff worked on 50 new shallow lake engineering enhancement projects to design water control structures for state DNR Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), public waters, and wetlands on federal lands managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Financially, DU and DNR spent $6,439,871 of the $6,505,000 appropriated for this project. DU spent the entire $5,042,000 portion appropriated to Ducks Unlimited while providing $1,205,381 in non-state financial leverage for a total expense of $6,247,381. This non-state leverage provided by DU far surpassed the minimal leverage pledged, and was comprised of a combination of private funds donated to DU from individuals, foundations, and corporations, and federal grants such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). Meanwhile, Minnesota DNR spent $$1,397,871 of the $1,463,000 appropriated to DNR, leaving $65,129 unspent to be returned to the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Although we fell short of our 750-acre land protection via fee-title acquisition goal, we exceeded all other original accomplishment plan goals of 200 shallow lake assessments, engineering work on 50 new enhancement projects, restoration of 63 wetland acres, and enhancement of 7,132 shallow lake wetland acres. The shortfall in total acres acquired was due to sharply rising cropland prices during this grant period, and uncooperative landowners in the drained Moonshine Lake basin in Big Stone County that made acquisition of those lands not feasible as previously planned. The primary landowner there refused to sell his land for appraised fair market value, and DU did not anticipate the spike in agricultural land prices that made acquiring an equal number of acres elsewhere impossible. Nonetheless, DU did acquire five smaller parcels totaling 352 acres in the Prairie Section, including 100 acres of wetlands and 252 acres of uplands. These parcels have been transferred to the Minnesota DNR for inclusion into the state WMA system for long-term habitat management and public outdoor recreational use.
Importantly, DU and DNR wetland projects were highly successful and surpassed our acreage goals. DU and DNR completed three wetland restoration projects, one by DNR on Pelican Lake WMA in Wright County that restored hydrology to 25 wetland acres in the Metro Section, and two others by DU that involved restoring wetland hydrology to 45 acres on Fenmont WMA in Nobles County and 27 acres o Four Corners WMA in Martin County in the Prairie Section. Moreover, DU and DNR each completed nine additional shallow lake and wetland enhancement projects that improved wetland ecological condition and management capability, for a total of 18 projects that enhanced 7,154 wetland acres in Prairie, Transition, and Metro Sections. These were mostly structural enhancement projects where DU and DNR engineering installed water control structures to allow for temporary water level draw-downs to enhance the aquatic ecology of managed wetlands on state and federal areas (including four Waterfowl Production Areas). Most of the acres enhanced were located on the Roseau state WMA, where DNR renovated an important dike used to control water levels in a large wetland. Elsewhere, DNR seeded wild rice into 40 acres of wetlands and shallow lakes in Wright and Stearns Counties in Metro, Transition, and Prairie Sections.
All DU and DNR wetland restoration and shallow lake enhancement projects were in public waters or in basins on state DNR or federal land where DNR or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will manage and maintain them for both wildlife habitat and public benefit. All lands acquired by DU were transferred to the Minnesota DNR for long-term wildlife habitat management and pubic outdoor recreational use.
$6,505,000 in fiscal year 2011 is to the commissioner of natural resources to assess, enhance, and restore shallow lake and wetland habitats, to acquire land in fee or through permanent conservation easements for shallow lake program restoration, and to provide stewardship for acquired easements in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited, Inc. of this appropriation, $1,463,000 is for the Department of Natural Resources agency program acceleration and $5,042,000 is for an agreement with Ducks Unlimited, Inc. A list of proposed projects, describing the types and locations of land acquisitions, restoration projects, and enhancement projects, must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan. The commissioner of natural resources must agree in writing to each acquisition, restoration project, and enhancement project. The accomplishment plan must include an easement stewardship plan. All restorations must comply with subdivision 9, paragraph (b)