DNR Aquatic Habitat - Phase VII
We will use a programmatic approach to achieve prioritized aquatic habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement of lakes and streams across all the LSOHC planning regions of Minnesota.
Minnesota's lakes and rivers have been degraded and continue to be threatened by the loss of natural lands to agricultural, recreational, and urban development. These changes affect water quality and habitat that is critical for fish. This proposal addresses habitat needs at numerous locations around the state through acquisition of key parcels to protect high-quality lakes and rivers from degradation, and enhancement/restoration projects that will contribute to improve fishing and benefit nongame species.
This proposal uses a programmatic approach to achieve prioritized aquatic habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement for lakes, trout streams, and rivers across Minnesota, building on the existing efforts and expertise in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR). We propose to protect 7 miles of shoreline on lakes and streams, enhance 625 acres of land on Aquatic Management Areas (AMA's), repair flood damage on 6 acres along SE Minnesota trout streams, and conduct restoration and enhancement projects on 8 acres of river habitat. The benefits of the river restoration and enhancement projects are greatly understated by the acreage of the project footprints, especially in the case of restored or enhanced fish passage. Restoring passage allows fish access to habitat and increases reproductive potential for fish populations upstream and downstream of projects. For example, removal of a dam on the Pomme de Terre River allowed 9 species, including walleye and channel catfish formerly not found above the dam, to repopulate 45 miles of river. The area benefiting from work as proposed on 8 acres will be over 1,590 acres.
Aquatic habitat protection will occur within the AMA designation of the Outdoor Recreation System. AMA's have strong support from conservation groups and anglers because of the multiple benefits of habitat protection and recreational access they provide. The AMA program currently has more than 830 miles of shoreline in over 330 AMA's that provide permanent protection of riparian habitat, perpetuate fish and wildlife populations, safeguard water quality, and offer recreational access. Acquisition of AMA's will be a mix of fee title and conservation easements. We propose to focus acquisition for AMA's in Northeast Minnesota trout streams, Southeast Minnesota trout streams, and for lakes in LSOHC's Northern Forest Planning Region.
A couple of significant changes have been made for this year's request for aquatic habitat protection. In the Northern Forest, we will follow the framework of MN DNR's Fish Habitat Plan, which considers existing threats and levels of protection and puts resources where they have the most significant conservation potential. Prioritization of parcels for acquisition will be based on criteria including ecological value, fishery quality, and existing watershed protection. Watersheds that can reach a threshold of 75% of land in permanent protection have a greater likelihood of maintaining water quality and fish habitat. In north-central Minnesota development pressures are high, but many high-quality lakes have watersheds with existing public lands or conservation easements where additional protection could achieve the 75 % threshold. Prioritization will focus protection on lake watersheds where that threshold is attainable, helping to permanently maintain the best aquatic habitat in Minnesota. To accomplish the necessary level of watershed protection, we will expand the range of protection options to include the Forests for the Future program. This program purchases permanent conservation easements on private forest land that continues to function as working forest, subject to a management plan employing best management practices. We are taking this approach because an exclusive focus on riparian lands is not sufficient by itself to protect aquatic habitat from impacts in the watershed, and because easements are more cost-effective than outright purchase of land. This proposal requests funding for 2 years to continue support for acquisitions, including trout stream easements, Northern Forest AMA’s, and Forests for the Future easements. Work will include development of stewardship plans and a prioritized parcel list for targeted watersheds. Local government units and non-governmental conservation organizations share an interest in conserving aquatic values in lakes of the Northern Forest Planning Region. All acquisition work will be coordinated with partners to ensure that this proposal complements rather than competes with other conservation efforts in the region.
Stream habitat restoration and enhancement will be based on proven methods and DNR experience with multiple projects. DNR has worked on large-scale river and stream restoration projects since 1998 and has completed or assisted in more than 100 projects to address issues including ditching, straightening, flood damage and loss of habitat complexity. Stream habitat projects address key components including fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, connectivity (to floodplain and to upstream/downstream reaches), and hydrology.
A key component of our stream habitat proposal is providing fish passage at in-stream barriers such as dams to reconnect fish and other aquatic species to habitats essential for spawning and other life stages. Monitoring past projects has documented immediate and significant population changes when passage is restored. For example, post-project monitoring on the Ottertail River documented 34 fish species moving upstream, from small minnows to a 48-inch musky. Dam removal, dam modification, and culvert replacement are examples of projects restoring passage. Although the per-acre cost based on project footprint is high, the benefits reach a far greater area and justify the investment. All proposed fish passage projects have been determined not to increase the potential for invasive species.
Trout streams in the Lanesboro area sustained damage in recent flooding. The funding request includes enhancement work to repair damage on 6 acres.
Enhancement projects on AMA's are based on a prioritized list generated by recent inventory and assessment. Previous LSOHC funding of roving crews to create management plans for AMA's has identified management needs. Projects will include invasive species removal, controlled burns on prairie parcels, establishing native plant species, and shore stabilization. We request continued funding of a half-time position for years focused on AMA enhancement work. All enhancement work will follow guidance on pollinators. AMA's have permanent protection and are open to recreational use as outlined in MR 6270. Project prioritization is based on management need.
$4,540,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire interests in land in fee and permanent conservation easements for aquatic management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, sections 86A.05, subdivision 14, and 97C.02, to acquire interests in land in permanent conservation easements for fish and wildlife habitat under Minnesota Statutes, section 84.66, and to restore and enhance aquatic habitat. Up to $130,000 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 restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Protection of aquatic habitat in lakes with high quality fisheries. Fisheries surveys and biological indicators based on fish and aquatic plant communities are monitored by MN DNR, and provide an assessment of lake condition..Enhancement of aquatic management areas improves riparian habitat and water quality/aquatic habitat. Fisheries and fish communities are monitored by DNR Section of Fisheries..Enhancement of aquatic management areas improves riparian habitat and water quality/aquatic habitat. Fisheries and fish communities are monitored by DNR Section of Fisheries..Rivers, streams, and surrounding vegetation provide corridors of habitat - Stream corridors protected by trout stream easements will be monitored by MN DNR. Trout fisheries are sampled by MN DNR Section of Fisheries..Enhancement of aquatic management areas and restoration/enhancement of streams improves riparian habitat and water quality/aquatic habitat. Fisheries and fish communities are monitored by DNR Section of Fisheries..