DNR Grassland Phase VI
With this appropriation, the DNR enhanced and restored over 11,700 acres of public lands or permanently protected private lands under easement. Projects under this appropriation included prescribed fire, prescribed or conservation grazing, woody removal, and enhancing plant diversity. With this appropriation we were able to exceed our target acreage by 38 percent.
This project was a little different from the typical DNR grassland enhancement appropriations in that it did not include a Roving Crew and it was a little more focused on the south east part of the state than other DNR grassland enhancement appropriations have been. That said, the types of projects are similar to what we've done in the past. What makes this appropriation different, perhaps, is not the few large showcase projects we do, but the collective impact and benefits of many smaller projects on the landscape.
With this funds we were able to conduct prescribed fires on over 6000 acres and remove woody vegetation from almost 2000 acres of grassland. Both of these types of projects are critical to grassland wildlife, especially birds. Multiple studies have shown that nesting success of both game birds and songbirds is significantly impacted by woody vegetation. Some species won't nest near tall trees and these trees also provide habitat for several types of nest predators.
There were several efforts to increase grassland diversity in brome or bluestem monocultures totaling 250 acres as well as restoration of over 100 acres. This should increase habitat quality for pollinating insects as well as increase the abundance of insects that serve as a critical high protein food resource, especially for egg-laying birds and fast-growing young chicks.
We also completed invasive species control on over 2700 acres of grassland. This should in turn increase native plant diversity and increase pollinator habitat.
One area new for this appropriation is conservation grazing, although in this case much of it could be referred to as conservation browsing. Goats were used in some cases for grazing prairie, especially on steep slopes. These areas are often dangerous for equipment and the goats reduce reliance on chemicals. Below is one description from DNR staff of this type of project.
"At Mound Prairie SNA, west of Hokah, MN, goats have spent multiple seasons grazing two bluff prairies cleared of eastern red cedar trees and invasive brush, such as buckthorn and honeysuckle. The goats were able to reduce the vigor of the woody vegetation, allowing native grasses and forbs an opportunity to grow. Using goats reduced the amount of chemical needed to control the invasive woody brush! There is now a sufficient grass component to facilitate prescribed burning."
A similar project in central Minnesota shows the benefits of cedar removal to prairie plants and wildlife.
"Starting in 2016 and continuing into 2019 invading trees and brush were removed from about 25 acres of rock outcrop and wet prairie at Cedar Rock SNA in Redwood County. The work was done in two phases; first large trees (mostly cedar) were cut, treated, piled and burned. Two years later a follow-up pass was made to control buckthorn which had grown after the removal of the taller trees. Although formal post-treatment surveys have not been conducted; previously undocumented rare plants are apparent and the area appears to harbor a broad array of both plant and animal species."
One area that gets little attention in habitat work is the ecosystem benefits of that work. Again, numerous studies have shown that grassland restoration is a very good way to remove carbon from the air, helping to mitigate climate change. Even prescribed burning, because it stimulates root growth will help remove carbon from the air and store the carbon in the soil.
As always, monitoring continues to be an issue with all these projects, both at the individual site and the larger landscape. The conservation partners in the state, including DNR, FWS, TNC, and others, continue to work to develop statistically rigorous ways of addressing these questions.
Attached are a series of images from Mound Prairie SNA (word doc) and Cedar Rock SNA (indiv jpgs). The Mound Prairie images show the impacts of cedar removal in the SE. The Cedar Rock aerial images show how cedars were only scattered over the site in the 1930s, covered the site before this project, and how these funds help open up a large area to prairie.
For this final report, dollars for each project are pro-rated based on the acre percentage for each project relative to the budget.
$1,530,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources to accelerate the restoration and enhancement of prairie communities in wildlife management areas, scientific and natural areas, aquatic management areas, state forest land, 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.
Restored 113 acres and enhanced 11,594 acres for a total of 11,707 acres.