DNR Grassland Phase 5
$2,220,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to accelerate the restoration and enhancement of wildlife management areas, scientific and natural areas, and land under native prairie bank easements. A list of proposed land restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Wetland and upland complexes consist of native prairies, restored prairies, quality grasslands, and restored shallow lakes and wetlands.
Water is kept on the land.
Protected, restored, and enhanced nesting and migratory habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need.
A network of natural land and riparian habitats will connect corridors for wildlife and species in greatest conservation need.
Healthier populations of endangered, threatened, and special concern species as well as more common species.
Improved condition of habitat on public lands.
Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need.
The following table provides a short summary of the accomplishments under this appropriation. In total, the DNR enhanced and restored 283 sites for a total of 17,087 acres.
Activity Sites Acres
Diversity Seeding 42 1,031
Prescribed Burn 148 10,365
Restorations 4 144
Woody Removal 92 5,666
This report begins with a few specific examples of the outcomes of these projects. I also include a larger overview of how these funds in general benefit the conservation community.
Tree removal on Popular WMA essentially “reclaimed” an open prairie wetland being overtaken by an overgrown fringe of black willow and cottonwood. The wetland basin saw very little in the way of waterfowl usage prior to the project, but has been used to a much greater degree by dabbler ducks since the project. The Area Wildlife Manager has directed several inquiring parties to this wetland for waterfowl hunting opportunity since the project was completed. The elimination of the trees likely increased nesting success as those clumps of trees are no longer harboring skunks, raccoon, opossum, and avian predators. Perhaps most importantly, the project eliminated the seed source of cottonwoods from being broadcast into the adjacent prairie reconstruction area.
The prescribed burn on Benderberg WMA triggered an excellent response in the native wet prairie remnant. It was largely an after-thought at this was former pasture, but the presence of fire really benefitted the native plant community. There was even some hand- harvest opportunity for species like wood lily. Without the roving crew and the MarshTracker, an Rx burn on this site would not have been possible. This was the first time much of this ground had seen a fire in over 4 decades. The plan is to periodically maintain this WMA with fire going forward and to maintain/enhance the wet prairie community that so wonderfully responded to it the first time around.
These funds were used to complete more than 50 acres of woody control projects on the Lake Bronson and Two Rivers Aspen Parkland Scientific and Natural Areas. These projects were part of an ongoing multi-year strategy to combat the encroachment of woody vegetation into high quality native prairies. In addition to setting back encroaching willows and aspen, the Lake Bronson SNA project appeared to have positive impacts on the sites population of western prairie fringed orchids (a Federally threatened species) as the second highest number of orchids ever recorded on the site were counted the spring following the project.
One untold stories is the cooperation between conservation agencies and NGOs in Minnesota. In some states, feds don’t like the state, and the NGOs fight among themselves. In Minnesota, we all get along really well. This is evidenced in partnership efforts that developed the Prairie Plan and Pheasant Plan. One early fear with OHF is that this would cause these groups to start bickering over the resource. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. It has pulled us together and increased cooperation.
One example of that is our collective seed harvest and grassland restoration efforts. In at least two areas, most notably Detroit Lakes and the Glacial Lakes area, multiple agencies/NGOs are coordinating their seed harvest and restoration efforts.
Partners are looking 1 to 3 years ahead on restoration efforts. Seed production is best on burned sites. Partners are determining what units and what soil types they want to restore each year. Then they find native tracts or high diversity restorations with similar soil types. These sites are prioritized for burning in the spring.
Once the site is burned, partners again work together to harvest and store the seed in the fall. The seed is then distributed to the DNR, USFWS, TNC or other partners. The seed is spread on the sites in the late winter or early spring. In some cases, agency/NGO staff are harvesting the seed. In other cases, they work with local contractors to harvest the seed.
Harvesting local seed is both cost-effective and when harvesting native tracts ensures we, collectively, are using a diverse mix of local ecotype seed.
Again, the OHF has helped developed new partnerships and projects that would not have happened or that would have happened at a much smaller scale with these critical funds.
Because this is a programmatic appropriation, it’s difficult to assign a dollar amount to a specific project. Because of this and the large number of projects, we simply assigned dollars to projects proportional to acres completed in that project. In the same way, we proportionally assigned dollars to personnel based on FTEs.