Dakota County Habitat Protection/Restoration Phase 4
$4,100,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Dakota County to acquire, restore, and enhance lands in Dakota County for fish and wildlife management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8, or aquatic management area purposes under Minnesota Statutes, sections 86A.05, subdivision 14, and 97C.02, and to acquire permanent conservation easements and restore and enhance habitats in rivers and lake watersheds in Dakota County. Up to $60,000 is for establishing 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 land acquisitions and permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
A network of natural land and riparian habitats will connect corridors for wildlife and species in greatest conservation need.Core areas protected with highly biologically diverse wetlands and plant communities, including native prairie, Big Woods, and oak savanna.Improved aquatic habitat indicators.
This project will protect 730 acres of habitat along the Vermillion, Cannon and Mississppi Rivers, Marcott and Chub Lake and the largest privately owned forest in Dakota County through acquisition of conservation easements and fee title, as well as restore/enhance 350 acres.
The long history of agricultural and urban/suburban development in Dakota County has resulted in the significant loss, degradation and fragmentation of our natural resource systems to a condition where less than three percent of the pre-settlement plant communities remain. And despite increased public awareness of water quality issues, improvement methods, and regulations, and improved, multi-agency efforts to assist landowners in protecting the environment, nearly every river, stream and lake in the County that has been monitored is officially impaired in some fashion. The majority of land is privately owned and does not provide close-to-home public access for most residents to hunt, fish or enjoy other outdoor recreational activities.
With a vibrant agricultural economy and high commodity prices, the pressure to plant corn and soybeans from fence row to fence row and continues to have a corresponding negative effect on wildlife habitat and water quality. Recent storm events illustrate the ever greater importance of protecting shoreland to reduce soil erosion and infrastructure damage. The curent and near-term economic prospects continues to result in very low residential development presure and has significantly lowered non-agricultural land prices. This combination of large-scale impacts and trends must be approached comprehensively, long-term and collaboratively if we are to maintain and improve our natural resource heritage and its many associated benefits. At the same time, there are tremendous opportunities to proactively and successfully address these challenges.
The County's initial response to these challenges was development of the Farmland and Natural Areas Program (FNAP) in 2003. This program, which used the best available technology, collaborative planing and partnerships and focused on multiple benefits, lead to the successful passage of a $20 million bond referendum in 2002. Over the past ten years, a total of 106 projects have been completed or are varying stages of completion that have/will protect nearly 10,000 acres with a real estate value of $75 million. Aside from these significant on-the-ground natural resource successes, the program has greatly increased the political support and staff and process capacity within the County and has greatly increased County credibility among landowners and diverse partners such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, MN Department of Natural Resources, Soil and Water Conservation District, Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization, Cannon River Watershed Partners, Friends of the Mississippi River, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and many others.
The FNAP subsequently inspired the development and completion of the Vermillion River Corridor Plan which used a comprehensive and integrated approach to protecting and improving wildlife habitat and water quality while increasing opportunities for nature-based recreation along a very diverse, multi- jurisdictional corridor. Over 220 people participated in the plan and these efforts reduced property rights issues and led to wide-spread support for riparian easements that can accomplish multiple public benefits while compensating and protecting private landowners. This approach was adopted for the Mississippi and Cannon River systems and remaining undeveloped lakeshore. A system of established criteria including habitat quality and size; reducing non-point pollution; improving stream channel, floodplain and wetland functions; length of shoreline; proximity to other protected land; landowner commitment to current and future stewardship; cost and leveraged funds; improving appropriate outdoor recreational opportunities; and other considerations will be used to evaluate and rank projects. Easements do not require public access, but projects including public access receive higher scores. In addition, payment for public access easements similar to the DNR Angler Access Easement Program, will be available to landowners. Easements do not preclude providing public trails at a future date and reflect the principle of being able to adapt to future changes in demographics and local land use. A technical staff team reviews and ranks projects and then forwards recommendations to the County Board for approval. Easement values for projects in cities or exceeding $50,000 will be based upon an independent, fair market appraisal.
Due to the lack of real estate comparables for riparian easements in the metro region and to increase staff and financial efficiency, a formula based on rural agricultural tax assessed value and variably adjusted according to regulatory conditions, floodplain, amount of cultivated land taken out of production, and vegetation types is used to determine per acre easement value. Updated aerial photography and Minnesota Land Cover Classification System data, official FEMA floodplain boundaries, and site visits will be used to determine the following respective acreage components of each easement:
- Agricultural Land within and outside of 50 feet from the shoreline
- Woodlands within and outside of 100-year floodplain, and
- Grasslands and Wetlands within and outside of 100-year floodplain
The respective acreages are multiplied by the relevant valuation amount to determine the value of each respective component to produce the overall easement value. Payment for public access is based upon $5/foot of shoreline within the easement. Phase I Environmental Assessments are completed for all projects and all solid waste has to be removed as a condition of participation. Easements are surveyed by the County Surveyor’s Office and the resulting information is used for legal documents and establishing boundaries . Baseline Property Reports, referenced in the easement deed, are reviewed and signed by the landowner and the County prior to acquisition. All easements require joint development of a Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) by the landowner(s) and the County. A Landowner Agreement is then developed between the two parties identifying the priorities, activities, responsibilities, costs, and schedule for restoration/enhancement activities.
On June 5, 2012, the County Board approved Resolution No. 12-326 and No. 12-330 authorizing the submitssion of a FY14 LSOHC proposal that also included requested funds to acquire fee title for some properties. In some instances this is to augment the strong partnership with the DNR and to assist them in acquiring AMA or WMA lands for hunting and fishing. In other cases, the Board is committing to protecting land outside of the regional park system because of its habit value. Project evaluation criteria for these fee title projects will be consistent with criteria used to evaluate and prioritize easements.