DNR Wildlife Management Area and Scientific & Natural Area Acquisition
$8,145,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire land in fee for wildlife management area purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8, and to acquire land in fee for scientific and natural area purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 5. Of this amount, $4,250,000 is for the Vermillion River Wildlife Management Area addition in Dakota County. Money appropriated in this paragraph may not be used to acquire any portion of the Vermillion River Wildlife Management Area Addition that is or will be subject to the removal of gravel or other mining activities. Any funds not spent on the Vermillion River Wildlife Management Area addition must be used for acquisition of land in the seven-county metropolitan area. Lands acquired with this appropriation may not be used for emergency haying and grazing in response to federal or state disaster declarations. Conservation grazing under a management plan that is already being implemented may continue. Subject to the evaluation criteria under Minnesota Rules, part 6136.0900, priority must be given to acquisition of lands that are eligible for the native prairie bank under Minnesota Statutes, section 84.96, or lands adjacent to protected native prairie. A list of proposed land and permanent conservation easement acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Greater public access for wildlife and outdoors-related recreation - Acres of lands acquired & designated as SNA with public access & parking area provided..A network of natural land and riparian habitats will connect corridors for wildlife and species in greatest conservation need - Acres of habitat and miles of stream acquired and managed as WMA..Improved aquatic habitat indicators - Number of trout per mile..Forestlands and savannas are protected from parceliazation and fragmentation and accessible for resource management purposes - Acres of native forest & savanna acquired & designated as SNA..Large corridors and complexes of biologically diverse wildlife habitat typical of the unglaciated region are restored and protected - Acres of interconnected public ownership in target area- before & after the acquisition..Key core parcels are protected for fish, game and other wildlife - Acres of lands within the Prairie Plan's Core Areas acquired & designated as WMA or SNA..Expiring CRP lands are permanently protected - Acres of expiring CRP lands that are acquired & designated as WMA..Remnant native prairies and wetlands are perpetually protected and adequately buffered - Acres of native prairie and native prairie buffer acquired & designated as WMA or SNA..Protected, enhanced and restored remnants of big woods and oak savanna - Numbers of listed species & species in greatest conservation need recorded on lands acquired..Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for migratory and unique Minnesota species - Numbers of listed species & species in greatest conservation need recorded on lands acquired..
Our program will coordinate with partners emphasizing Prairie Conservation Plan implementation through fee title acquisition of priority lands for Wildlife Management Areas and Scientific & Natural Areas for public hunting, trapping and compatible uses consistent with the Outdoor Recreation Act.
This proposal will protect 1,113 acres of wildlife habitat through fee title acquisition and development as Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs, 763 acres) and Scientific & Natural Areas (SNAs, 350 acres). Lands will be acquired and developed within the Prairie and Metropolitan/Urbanizing Area Planning Sections with an emphasis on Prairie Conservation Plan core and corridor areas, working toward the long-term goal of a minimum of 40% grassland and 20% wetland in core prairie areas. Lands outside core and corridor areas will be evaluated on their habitat potential and contribution to existing WMA units.
Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)
WMAs are established to protect those lands and waters which have a high potential for wildlife production and to develop and manage these lands and waters for public hunting, fishing and trapping, and for other compatible outdoor recreational uses. While highly successful, the current WMA system does not meet all of the present and future needs for wildlife habitat, wildlife population management, hunter access and wildlife related recreation. This is notably true in the Prairie Ecological Planning section where public ownership in some counties is less than 2 percent.
DNR Section of Wildlife uses a geospatial analytical (GIS) based tool to identify the highest priority tracts for potential WMA acquisitions. This approach uses a quantitative or database approach to score and rank acquisition proposals based on a set of weighted criteria and creates a standardized method for evaluating proposed acquisitions on a statewide level. Criteria and weights are annually reviewed and adapted to changing conditions and priorities. This ensures that funds are used to acquire available lands consistent with the statutory purpose of WMAs. The WMA acquisition program is guided by the 2002 Citizens’ Committee report. This committee was composed of a diverse group of eleven major stakeholder groups. A list of potential acquisition opportunities from willing sellers is coordinated with interested stakeholders and partners to eliminate duplication and identify concerns or support.
This proposal includes a rare opportunity to protect significant acres and river frontage to a major WMA in the metro area. The parcel of interest is contiguous with the Vermillion Highlands Research, Recreation & WMA to the north and the Vermillion River AMA/WMA to the west and has long been identified as a key parcel to protect and enhance the overall Vermillion River Complex. By protecting existing habitat and establishing vegetation on lands that are currently disturbed, the Vermillion River watershed will gain hundreds of acres of perennial cover, keeping water on the landscape, benefitting the Vermillion River and receiving waters downstream. Added habitat will benefit game and non-game species alike. As part of agreeing to sell 425 acres to the State (363) and Dakota County (62 acres north of the Vermillion River) in separate transactions, Cemstone Products Corporation (CPC) will be allowed to remove gravel from up to 160 acres of land for a period of up to ten years. CPC will have a mining footprint of 80 acres or less at any given time, and will work with the State to re-establish vegetation as mining is completed. Once established, public use will be allowed. The appraisal will value those 160 acres only for their surface “highest and best use.” The State will not be paying for gravel that may be removed or remaining after ten years. Acres that are currently being or will be mined for sand and gravel will be planted with a prairie seed mix or potentially wetland habitat will be established; a plan is drafted and a mechanism to ensure the State’s interests are protected related to the re-vegetation agreement are being investigated. Dakota County and Empire Township have interest in a trail corridor that may run through the parcel they will acquire. Outdoor Heritage Funds will not be used to pay for lands to be mined by CPC or lands where a trail may be developed.
To date, LSOHC funds have paid for more than 6,000 acres of WMA. Coordinating with partners has been successful to ensure we are working cooperatively and on priority parcels.
Scientific & Natural Areas (SNAs)
The state SNA Program will increase public hunting and fishing opportunities while providing the highest level of public protection to sites with outstanding natural resource value. About 350 acres will be acquired in fee by the DNR and designated as SNA in order to provide public access and to protect and buffer Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS)-recommended sites of biodiversity significance. Protection will be targeted at high priority opportunity areas identified in the new SNA Strategic Plan (the updated MNDNR SNA Long Range Plan - in progress). To be acquired and designated as SNA, the site must be recommended for SNA designation in an Ecological Evaluation report which serves as the site’s baseline assessment for fee acquisitions and be part of a MBS-mapped biodiversity significance site. All such sites are predominantly MBS-mapped native plant communities (native prairie and savanna along with associated wetlands and riparian lands) and contain habitat for wildlife, Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and rare species. In addition, SNA staff uses criteria, such as ease of public access and resource management, landowner readiness and urgency, degree of threat, increasing connectivity/adding public land to existing SNAs, and partnership opportunities, to rank which recommended sites are currently pursued.
Properties acquired through this appropriation require approval of the County Board of Commissioners in the county of acquisition, will be designated as WMA or SNA through a Commissioner's Designation Order, brought up to minimum DNR standards, and listed on the DNR website. Basic site improvements will include boundary and LSOHC acknowledgement signs and may include any necessary site cleanup and restoration of agricultural fields. For any newly established WMAs or SNAs, the basic improvements necessary for public access will include new entrance and rules signs and provision for minimal public parking, e.g., a small gravel parking area. Wherever applicable, the WMA and SNA Programs will work with conservation partners to identify