Bluffland Prairie Protection Initiative
This program will protect 300-500 acres of land in the blufflands region of southeastern Minnesota--an area that contains unique and ecologically important prairie, oak savanna and grassland habitat along with outstanding forested bluffs, woodlands, wetlands and cold water trout streams along the Mississippi River.
In order to protect these rare habitats from destruction by development or incompatible land use, we will work with willing sellers to complete 3-5 perpetual conservation easements on private lands. These easements prohibit those land uses or development that harm or negatively affect important habitat values and will require habitat management plans as appropriate, ensuring that long term land management will maximize habitat values.
The Minnesota Land Trust works with donated easements whenever possible and purchases easements where necessary, typically at a bargain sale price. Through conservation easements, the Land Trust is able to protect land at a fraction of what it would cost to purchase the land outright in fee.
The Mississippi River Blufflands ecological subsection is identified in Minnesota's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy as having the highest concentration of species in greatest conservation need in the entire State. This includes a high concentration of neo-tropical migrant birds and waterfowl, as well as reptiles, mammals, mollusks and insects. Many of these game and non-game species exist in part because of the rich tapestry of habitat types in the region-hardwood forests, floodplain wetlands, cold water streams-and the unique presence of bluff prairie, oak savanna and re-established grasslands.
This rich tapestry is threatened today by the destructive impacts of land fragmentation, bluff-top development and changes in agricultural practices. The Minnesota Land Trust has been engaged in the protection of the Blufflands for more than a decade, having preserved more than 6,000 acres of land through 42 projects, making it one of the organization's highest priorities.
The Land Trust has already secured the interest of 8 landowners in the area. These landowners collectively own more than 2,000 acres of land, including 300 acres of prairies or grassland habitat. In addition, the Land Trust has now information on an additional 20 other landowners that DNR has identified and ranked as having outstanding prairie property. Specific activities proposed for funding under this grant include: further identifying and negotiating with these interested landowners, drafting and completing easements, documenting property conditions, and creating plans for and dedicating funds for the perpetual monitoring, management and enforcement of those easements.
The conservation easements the Land Trust will negotiate with each landowner will be specifically designed to protect the natural features and habitat values of that landowner's particular tract of land. The easement will limit commercial, industrial and residential development and division of the property, restrict inappropriate agricultural practices and require an approved land management plan to encourage proper management of the resource. In this working landscape, the Land Trust anticipated that it will need to purchase some easements to meet our goals. However, we have had great success with donated easements, particularly with availability of expanded income tax benefits which are now in place but due to expire at the end of the calendar year.
The use of conservation easements to protect critical habitat is a widely-accepted practice which has demonstrated great results both in Minnesota and around the country. The Minnesota Land Trust has an effective track record of using easements in a similar capacity for almost 20 years, holding more conservation easements than any other private conservation organization in the state--making it one of the most experienced organizations working with the unique conservation tool.
The success of conservation easements requires an effective partnership with the private landowners. As such, the Land Trust has developed an effective conservation easement stewardship program to both prevent future impacts through encouraging voluntary compliance with the terms of the easement and to enforce and defend the easement in the unlikely case of an easement violation. The Minnesota Land Trust and conservation organizations around the country have recognized the great importance of substantially investing in stewardship activity. Our successful history of easement stewardship is one of the important factors which led to the Minnesota Land Trust being one of the first accredited land trusts in the country. Our proposal requests the funds necessary to make sure we can continue to meet our obligations with respect to easement acquired through this grant.
Though not required when working with private landowners on private land, the Minnesota Land Trust has a history of working closely with the local governments in the Blufflands. We have worked extensively with the City of Red Wing to help that community implement its own conservation plans. Many of our bluffland projects have been initiated at the City's request. Similarly, we have worked with the City of La Crescent to help the City establish local natural parks. We expect this pattern to continue and have established an office in Red Wing to cement our local? presence and commitment to local issues.
$500,000 in fiscal year 2010 is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Minnesota Land Trust or successor to acquire permanent easements protecting critical prairie and grassland habitats in the blufflands in southeastern Minnesota. A list of proposed fee title and permanent easement acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Protect in easement 548 acres of prairies,