Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex Phase IV
Protect approximately 270 acres and restore approximately 50 acres near the Cannon River headwaters, including wetlands, prairies, Big Woods forest, and river & shallow lake shoreline to reverse habitat loss, improve watershed function and provide access.
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex Phase IV program acquired 287 acres of high-quality wetland,
prairie, remnant Big Woods forest, and shoreline habitat for fish, game and wildlife in the Cannon River Watershed.
The protection and creation of four large complexes - Circle Lake WMA, Big Woods Heritage WMA (Erin
Township), Sunktokeca Creek WMA (Wells Township), and Trout Lily WMA provide new opportunities for public
hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation.
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex Phase IV program was designed to address the following
problems: degradation and loss of quality and diversity of habitat in the prairie section of the State, degradation of
water quality in the Cannon River Watershed; and lack of available public lands for hunting and angling
opportunities, especially within an hour's drive for over half of the state's population.
The Phase IV program is a part of a multi-year conservation effort, focusing on the Cannon River Watershed, that
includes acquisition, protection, and restoration of core parcels of land that will contribute to a large complex of
restored prairies, grasslands, wetlands, lakeshore, and river shoreline. The Phase IV acquisitions were prioritized
toward protecting existing large wetland/upland complexes, rare communities (Big Woods forest, oak savanna,
tamarack swamp), and shallow lakes. In addition, landowner willingness to sell and the threat of conversion were
also taken into consideration. Protection of these lands provides critical habitat for game species, including
migratory waterfowl (mallards, canvasback, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, pintails, lesser scaup), upland birds
(dove, turkey, pheasant, and woodcock), white tail deer, and fish (northern pike, black crappies, bluegills,
bullheads and walleye). Protection will also provide access for a diversity of recreational experiences including
duck, pheasant, turkey and deer hunting, lake fishing, and wildlife observation. In addition, restoration work
conducted by the MN DNR has been focused on the degraded portions of the lands acquired and has included
restoration of agricultural fields near wetlands and lakes back to native habitat.
Specifically, four acquisitions were completed with Phase IV funding:
1. Circle Lake WMA - Rice County:
The Trust for Public Land acquired the Circle Lake WMA property on June 23, 2016 and conveyed the 166 acre
property to the DNR on March 10, 2017 to be managed as a new Wildlife Management Area. Located directly on the
north shore of Circle Lake in Rice County, this new WMA consists of high quality emergent marsh habitat as well as
upland grass knolls. This site protects habitat for a wide variety of waterfowl and wildlife, specifically including
colonial waterbirds and Blanding's turtles. The Trust for Public Land purchased this property for a total of
$711,000 using $371,684 from Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Phase IV (ML 2014 OHF; allocated acreage 87),
and also $339,316 from the Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Phase III grant (ML 2013 OHF; allocated acreage
2. Big Woods Heritage WMA - Rice County:
The Trust for Public Land acquired the Big Woods Heritage property on June 23, 2016 and conveyed the 130 acre
property to the DNR on March 10, 2017 to be managed as a new Wildlife Management Area. Located just north of
Shields Lake, the headwaters of the Cannon River, this new WMA comprises both rolling upland mixed forest and
wetland habitat. The native plant community of Southern Mesic Maple-Basswood Forest is found on this property
and it will provide new publicly accessible outdoor experiences including ample hunting opportunities for
waterfowl, deer, pheasant and turkeys. The Trust for Public Land purchased this property for a total of $520,000
using $271,836 in funds from Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Phase IV (ML 2014 OHF; allocated acreage 68),
and also $248,164 from Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Phase III (ML 2013 OHF; allocated acreage 62).
3. Sunktokeca Creek WMA - Rice County:
The Trust for Public Land acquired the Sunktokeca Creek property on June 23, 2016 and conveyed the 199 acre
property to the DNR on March 10, 2017 to be managed as a new Wildlife Management Area. Located just northwest
of Faribault, this new WMA protects diverse, high quality emergent marsh habitat, supports a wide variety of
waterfowl and wildlife, and provides new publically accessible outdoor experiences within an hour of the Twin
Cities including quality hunting opportunities’ for waterfowl, deer, pheasant and turkeys. The Trust for Public Land
purchased this property for a total of $1,040,000 using $543,673 in funds from Cannon River Headwaters Habitat
Phase IV (ML 2014 OHF; allocated acreage 104), and also $496,327 from Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Phase
III (ML 2013 OHF; allocated acreage 95).
4. Trout Lily WMA - Rice County:
On August 9, 2017, The Trust for Public Land acquired the 112 acre Phase I property and conveyed both the Phase
1 and Phase 2 properties to the Minnesota DNR on November 6, 2018 to create the new Cannon River Trout Lily
WMA in Rice County. This new WMA is located directly on the Cannon River just northeast of Faribault, it currently
consists of agricultural cropland and maple-basswood “Big Woods” remnants, and will be restored to prairie while
conserving the federally-endangered dwarf trout lily habitat. Directly adjacent to The Nature Conservancy’s Trout
Lily preserve and the DNR Trout Lily Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), this acquisition adds protection to this
federally-endangered species that is only found on Earth in approximately 600 acres in this area of Minnesota. In
addition to protecting the dwarf trout lily and other rare animals such as wood turtles, Blanding’s turtles, and red-
shouldered hawks, this area is home to a major deer wintering complex. Cannon River Trout Lily WMA will provide
much needed public access for dispersed wildlife-based recreation including hunting, fishing, trapping, bird-
watching, general nature observation, and to provide a natural environment for the study of wildlife and their
This acquisition used the remaining $148,679 of the Cannon River Phase IV acquisition funds and $453,321 of the
Cannon River Phase V acquisition funds.
$1,430,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with The Trust for Public Land to acquire and restore lands in the Cannon River watershed for wildlife management area purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8. Lands 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 proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
67 Wetland acres, 103 Prairie acres, 80 Forest acres, and 37 Habitat acres (for a total of 287 acres) Protected in Fee with State PILT Liability.