DNR Grassland - Phase 8
We propose continued efforts to restore and enhance prairies, grasslands, and savannas on state protected lands (WMA, SNA, Native Prairie Bank) as well as on bluff prairies on State Forest lands in southeastern Minnesota.
Minnesota's Wildlife Management Area system covers over 1.3 million acres of habitat across 1400 WMAs protected and managed by the DNR. Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Area program currently administers over 220 natural areas totaling 215,600 acres and 100 Native Prairie Bank easements.
Enhancing existing acres and restoring new acres in the WMA system are core management principles of the DNR. These WMAs provide diverse food and cover for local and migratory wildlife, as well as pollinators. Restoration and enhancement practices being used with this proposal have been proven to provide desired outcomes on existing state-managed lands and reflect the most current science in the areas of habitat management and restoration ecology. Through this funding, the state will accelerate restoration and enhancement habitat improvements on state land and lands protected by permanent easement. This will provide improved critical wildlife habitat and a more functional prairie landscape. Habitat improvement actions enhance existing degraded habitat to directly increase the productivity of nesting habitat for pheasants, waterfowl and a variety of non-game grassland species such as meadowlarks, longspurs, Species of Greatest Conservation Need and a suite of critical pollinator species.
In recent years almost every species of wildlife dependent on grasslands and prairies has declined. Since 2007, Minnesota has lost 530,000 acres of CRP. Uncounted acres of native prairie have also been lost.
The following are taken from the DNR’s 2014 Status of Wildlife Populations Report. Waterfowl: “The estimate of total duck abundance…was 31% lower than last year’s estimate…and was 25% below the 10-year average and 24% below the long-term average.” Pheasants: “The 2014 range-wide pheasant index (28.7 birds/100 mi) increased 6% from 2013 but was 58% below the 10-year average and 71% below the long-term average.” From the 2014 State of the Birds Report: “Eastern grassland birds (such as Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink) have continued a steady and precipitous decline.” The Dakota Skippers and Poweshiek skipperlings are now federally listed, the decline in honeybees monarch butterflies have generated national media attention.
Aquatic habitats in western Minnesota are also declining. Studies by the University of Minnesota and the MPCA have shown links to water quality and grassland habitat. Restoration of new grasslands and enhancement of existing grasslands is crucial to changing these declines in wildlife populations and water quality.
Although Minnesota DNR has the training and knowledge to restore high quality prairie vegetation current funding has been insufficient to meet all needs. Many sites on state lands are currently not being actively managed to full potential. Furthermore exotic and/or invasive plants are encroaching into them. Tree encroachment is an especially troublesome problem. Enhancement and restoration of prairie requires periodic disturbance such as prescribed burning, conservation grazing, and haying. Harvesting and using high quality seed from established prairie sites to plant at nearby locations has proven to be highly cost-effective and ensures the use of local ecotype seed.
WMA Habitat Work (approximately 37,000 acres over 5 years) – Total $1,105,400 + 289,000 for Direct and Necessary for WMA Habitat Work and Roving Crews
Grassland enhancement work will be through techniques such as brush and tree removal, grassland conversion, chemical treatment, mowing, and prescribed fire. Seed will be obtained via harvesting of local native or restored prairie when possible and purchase of seed from vendors when necessary (following Operational Order 124). DNR will contract much of this work. Seed mixes used for prairie restoration and enhancement will be adequately diverse to provide pollinator habitat throughout the growing season. All other work will be done using Best Management Practices to ensure pollinator habitat consistent with MN Statute 84.973.
Ecological and Water Resources Habitat Work (approximately 2360 acres over 5 years) – Total $1,007,400
Restoration of prairie will occur on 387 acres of severely altered lands by reconstructing native plant communities suitable to that location and soil type. These restorations are either in-holdings within a native prairie, or lands adjacent to a native prairie. Seed will be collected from native prairies adjacent to the restorations or purchased from vendors with local seed sources. Seed mixes will be adequately diverse to provide pollinator habitat throughout the growing season. These restorations will expand existing prairie habitat and buffer native prairies from the impacts of adjacent land uses. Funding requested for restoration projects will cover all costs and activities associated with reconstructing a prairie including project design, seedbed preparation, seed harvest, seed installation, and first year weed control. Prairie enhancement activities will be implemented on 6510 acres of existing SNA's, State Forest Land and Prairie Bank Easement sites. Funding requested for enhancement projects will cover all project costs and activities including project design, contract administration, staff time, equipment and supplies. These enhancement activities will focus on native prairies, but may include some restored prairies within the project sites. Many of these native prairie sites harbor rare and unique features, or are located on steep terrain, which require low impact management techniques (e.g. hand cutting of woody encroachment). These specialized prairie management techniques, and the skilled crews that implement them, can incur higher costs than similar lower diversity grassland projects.
WMA Roving Crews (approximately 24,000 acres over 3 years) - $1,581,200
WMA Roving Crews have proven to be an effective means to accomplish supplemental habitat work. We currently have three WMA Roving Crews working in Minnesota funded through four seperate Outdoor Heritage Fund appropriations (two grassland and two wetland appropriations). We propose funding for 75% (upland/prairie) of the DNR Region 1 Roving crew for four years. These crews will spend approximately 15% of their time on restoration projects and 85% on enhancement projects.
Program managers may add, delete, and substitute projects on the approved parcel list based upon need, readiness, cost, opportunity, and/or urgency so long as the substitute parcel/project forwards the constitutional objectives of this program in the Project Scope table of this accomplishment plan. The final accomplishment plan report will include the final parcel list.
$3,983,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources to accelerate restoration and enhancement of prairies, grasslands, and savannas on wildlife management areas, scientific and natural areas, native prairie bank land, and bluff prairies on state forest land in southeastern Minnesota. A list of proposed land restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Healthy populations of endangered, threatened, and special concern species as well as more common species - This project will focus on those pockets of grassland within the northern forest region, especially along the western edge of this region. We will use existing surveys to determine the impacts of the work done under this appropriation..Protected, restored, and enhanced nesting and migratory habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need - These projects involve the general health and productivity of grasslands for all grass-dependent wildlife. Measures will include wildlife surveys done by DNR staff within EWR, Research and Habitat programs. .Core areas protected with highly biologically diverse wetlands and plant communities, including native prairie, Big Woods, and oak savanna - While outside of the Prairie Plan region of the state, we will still work to develop larger complexes of habitat that can serve a number of species and minimize edge effects. Measurements will primarily be done by examining parcel size, edge:area ratios, and connectivity. .Remnant goat prairies are perpetually protected - DNR Area Staff and DNR EWR staff will be primarily in charge of monitoring these sites. .Restored and enhanced upland habitats - There are already several long-term monitoring projects under the MN Prairie Conserv Plan. These data are collected by DNR EWR, DNR Research, DNR Habitat Teams, TNC, and USFWS. .