Accelerating Habitat Conservation in Southwest Minnesota
The Minnesota Land Trust proposes to permanently protect 550 acres of high quality habitat in southwest Minnesota by securing conservation easements within scientifically prioritized habitat complexes by filling key unmet gaps in the available land protection toolbox. Working with willing landowners the Land Trust will use its innovative bid model to maximize conservation benefit and financial leverage in project selection. The Land Trust in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service will restore/enhance 195 acres of wetlands and associated prairies to benefit SGCN and waterfowl populations.
The plight of prairies and wetlands in southwest Minnesota is well-documented; less than 2% of native prairie remains and 90% of wetlands have been lost. Habitat loss and degradation threaten wildlife populations and contribute to the decline of the 116 SGCN that utilize the wetlands, streams and prairies across the region. Since the inception of Minnesota's Prairie Plan in 2010, targeted land protection and restoration action by a large number of conservation organizations and agencies has resulted in significant conservation gains across southwest Minnesota. Now nearly a decade into its implementation, the Land Trust engaged a broad cross-section of these organizations to identify what challenges remain to realizing that Plan. Through this conversation, several significant challenges were identified: 1) land protection tools currently available are not sufficiently broad to address the full spectrum of need; high priority easement projects at times don't align with the conservation easement programs currently available; 2) restoration and enhancement funding available has been a limiting factor to some key partners, and 3) high priority areas for conservation (identified in Minnesota's Wildlife Action Network [WAN]) do not always align with the Prairie Plan and are not being addressed. This proposal aims to address these gaps in the Southwest Minnesota conservation framework by marrying the Land Trust's unique set of tools and expertise with funding through the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Working with willing landowners, the Land Trust will protect 660 acres of priority wetland, prairie and associated upland habitat through conservation easements. The Land Trust's conservation easements fill an important gap not addressed by easement programs currently available in Southwest Minnesota through USFWS, MN DNR and BWSR. The Land Trust's easement program has greater flexibility to address key conservation opportunities that otherwise would be left on the table. Land protection actions through this proposal will focus on: 1) priority areas within the Prairie Plan left orphaned by current conservation easement programs, and 2) conservation priorities identified in the WAN that are not encompassed by the Prairie Plan. The Land Trust will employ its criteria-based ranking system and market-based approach to the acquisition of conservation easements. This strategic approach targets projects that help fill gaps in existing public ownership, are of the highest ecological value, and provide the greatest leverage to the State's funding investment. The Land Trust will seek donated easements whenever possible but also may fully purchase easements that help complete key complexes as necessary. Restoration and enhancement activities will target priority permanently protected lands. The Land Trust in cooperation with USFWS will restore and enhance 195 acres of important wetland, riparian and prairie habitat on permanently protected lands. These projects will increase buffers and provide links to existing protected wetland and upland habitat complexes across the program area. This program will be closely coordinated with other public agencies (including MN DNR, BWSR, USFWS, and local SWCDs), and other non-profit organizations to ensure multi-agency conservation goals are being met.
$3,044,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Minnesota Land Trust to acquire permanent conservation easements and to restore and enhance high-quality wildlife habitat in southwest Minnesota. Of this amount, up to $144,000 is to establish a monitoring and enforcement fund as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. A list of proposed conservation easement acquisitions, restorations, and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for migratory and unique Minnesota species - This program will permanently protect 349 acres of wetland and upland habitat complexes and restore/enhance 195 acres of wetlands and prairies in the prairie region. Measure: Acres protected; acres restored; acres enhanced
Landowner Donation of Easement Value