Dakota County Habitat Protection/Restoration Phase 4
During this grant time frame, Dakota County was able to protect habitat through acquisition of seven parcels, totaling 409 acres. The fee title ownership of three of the parcels, totaling 197 acres, was transferred to the Minnesota DNR as part of establishing the new Hampton Woods Wildlife Management Area in Hampton and Castle Rock townships. Another notable acquisition was that of a 109-acre easement on a portion of the Grannis property in Inver Grove Heights, which when added to the original 17-acre easement, totals 126 acres that includes the southernmost and highest quality lake of the Marcott Lakes Chain. Additionally, when combined with the adjacent 103-acre Lindberg easement, provides a total protected area of 229 acres in Inver Grove Heights. As is typical for a voluntary land protection program, landowners don't always move forward with their projects for a variety of reasons; and eight projects that staff worked on were either withdrawn by the landowner, or the County completed them with Outdoor Heritage funding from another grant.
Dakota County also completed a significant amount of restoration work within a variety of habitats, totaling 392 acres. Restoration work was completed in areas including: the new Hampton Woods WMA; on the Grannis easement; and at three locations along the Vermillion River, among other locations. This restoration work is ongoing.
Dakota County's commitment to land conservation is reflected in one of four County Board Strategic Plan Goals: A healthy environment with quality natural areas. This commitment is recognized through annual County Board support (e.g., funding and staff resources) for land conservation programs, other environmental health and protection programs and initiatives, as well as the County Board's commitment to not only establish regional parks and County park preserves, but its commitment to restoring habitat within its park system. Through this commitment, County Land Conservation staff work with confidence and were able to achieve greater grant match support than anticipated, providing County grant-match funding and in-kind staff time totaling $732,300, $444,300 more than the original estimate of $288,000. The extended length of time afforded to expend grant funding, per Section 2.1 of the grant agreement contributed greatly to this level of County grant-match.
Through the Dakota County Land Conservation Program, the County has been protecting high-quality natural areas for wildlife habitat and improved water quality, outside its regional park system, since 2003.
As with many conservation acquisition efforts during the term of this grant, modifications were made to accommodate evolving circumstances. As a result, Dakota County acquired four conservation easements that protected 212 acres of: wetlands (5 acres); Forest/Woodland (49 acres); Grasslands (24 acres); Cultivated land that was restored to natural vegetation (100 acres); Habitat (12 acres); and Open Water (22 acres). The County's voluntary program can be unpredictable. An application round is held each year to accept submittals for potential conservation easement projects. Project Prioritization Criteria are used to score and rank project applications. Some projects move through the process to closing, and some stall-out or are withdrawn by the landowner for a variety of reasons. The common, uncertain nature of a voluntary conservation program is why in future grants, the County extended the window of time to complete acquisitions, because sometimes it just takes more time to get to the closing. An extended acquisition timeframe will provide greater flexibility in completing projects.
The County also successfully completed three natural area fee title acquisitions totaling 197 acres, establishing the first protected land within the new Hampton Woods Wildlife Management Area in Hampton and Castle Rock townships. This historic woodland has stood for centuries and was used by settlers as a woodlot as surrounding areas were cultivated. The County transferred ownership and management of the 197 acres of land to the Minnesota DNR. More acquisitions are planned, with subsequent ownership transfer to the DNR within this new WMA.
Regarding restoration efforts, the County successfully restored 390 acres, involving 16 parcels. The County requires not only Natural Resource Management Plans (NRMPs) for each natural area easement, but requires that landowners sign a Management Agreement (MA) that outlines restoration and maintenance activities, who is responsible for the work, and how each activity will be funded, using cost estimates from accepted contractor proposals. Restoration work involved parcels that include over 1 mile of shoreline. Restoration activities included: restoring agricultural land to natural vegetation; removing invasive species, like buckthorn; establishing test areas to determine the most effective way(s) to remove invasive species; and forest and prairie seeding to re-establish or enhance native species diversity.
The parcels restored supports populations of eagles, sandhill cranes, deer, eastern cottontail, wild fur-bearing game (fox, coyote, mink, and beaver), wild turkey, pheasant, wood duck, and other waterfowl. Restoration activities anticipate an increase in the populations of these and many other species, which will augment populations on the adjacent land. In addition, these restoration efforts anticipate more diverse populations of non-game species. Baseline populations will be monitored into the future.
$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.
Restored 392 acres, protected 197 acres (in fee with state PILT liability), protected 214 acres (in easement) for a total of 803 Acres