DNR Wildlife Management Area, Scientific and Natural Area and Native Prairie Bank Easement Acquisition
$4,940,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire land in fee for wildlife management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8; acquire land in fee for scientific and natural area purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 5; and acquire native prairie bank easements under Minnesota Statutes, section 84.96. Up to $42,000 is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund, as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17, for native prairie bank easements. A list of proposed land and permanent conservation easement acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Forestlands are protected from development and fragmentation.Increased availability and improved condition of riparian forests and other habitat corridors.Wetland and upland complexes will 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.Protected habitats will hold wetlands and shallow lakes open to public recreation and hunting.Remnant goat prairies are perpetually protected.High priority riparian lands, forestlands, and savannas are protected from parcelization and fragmentation.Protected, restored, and enhanced shallow lakes and wetlands.Expiring CRP lands are permanently protected.Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need.
Our program will coordinate with partners, with emphasis on Prairie Conservation Plan implementation, and acquire priority lands for Wildlife Management Areas, Scientific and Natural Areas, and Native Prairie Bank easesments for public hunting, trapping and compatible outdoor uses consistent with the Outdoor Recreation Act.
Minnesota’s population has grown by over 1 million people, to 5.3 million, in the past 20 years and is projected to continue this growth rate for the next 20 years. Thousands of acres of habitat are being converted to intensive commercial, residential, and agricultural development each year. Due to the current recession, non-agricultural land prices have stabilized or declined and a short-term opportunity exists to purchase more value for our expenditures. At the same time in our prairie landscape, land prices have risen in recent years due to the favorable economic conditions for row crop agriculture.
Lands acquired in fee will become part of the Outdoor Recreation System (M.S. 86A.06) as WMAs or SNAs, or as permanent conservation easement as part of the Native Prairie Bank (NPB) (M.S. 84.96). This project includes the initial land development of each parcel acquired including boundary surveys and signage, well and septic closure, building and dump disposal, restoration of shallow temporary and seasonal wetlands and restoration of bare ground with native vegetation; the project also includes proposed NPB conservation easement stewardship funding. We would like to clarify that costs for new acquisitions include minimal public use facilities to prevent WMA and SNA habitat degradation. This program is supported by all traditional outdoor stakeholders.
Wildlife Management Areas
This proposal will protect 3,510 acres of wildlife habitat through acquisition and development as State Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Lands will be acquired and developed within each Ecological Planning Region following general guidelines from the 2002 Citizens’ Advisory Committee on WMA acquisition and the 2014 LSOHC Call for Funding Request.
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 the production of wildlife, 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.
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 data based 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. All WMA acquisitions by DNR require approval of the County Board of Commissioners in the county of acquisition.
To date, LSOHC funds have paid for 1,421 acres of WMA (3,820 acres including partner-acquired), with several acquisitions nearing completion that will add to this total. Coordinating with partners has been successful to ensure we are working cooperatively and on priority parcels. One of the biggest challenges is rising agricultural land values and meeting landowner expectations.
Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs)
Sites of biodiversity significance with high game and non-game wildlife habitat value will be acquired by fee acquisition and designated as state SNAs within the state recreation system and would all be open to all hunting during the regular seasons. To be acquired and designated as SNA, the site must be recommended for SNA designation in an Ecological Evaluation report and part of a Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) outstanding or high biodiversity significance site and/or be a geological feature of statewide significance. All sites designated as SNA are predominantly native plant communities and also contain habitat for rare species and Species of Greatest Conservation Need. All sites acquired as SNA require county board approval. This proposal will protect 835 acres as SNAs. Two sites are very high quality native prairies in southeastern Minnesota. Two are bluffland forest-grassland complexes – one with bluff prairies (also called goat prairies) along the Root River and one along the St Croix River. Two of these sites are new SNAs and two would be additions to existing SNAs.
Native Prairie Bank Conservation Easement (NPB)
DNR-held and managed NPB Conservation Easements (NPB) will be acquired on high quality native prairie in the prairie, southeastern and south-central Minnesota. Generally, NPB acquisitions are at least 90% native prairie (unless the landowner donates additional non-prairie lands). Each potential NPB site is prioritized based upon: (1) size, quality and diversity of the native prairie, (2) occurrence of or suitable habitat for rare species, (3) location of the tract in relation to other protected prairie, (4) potential for long-term habitat management and enhancement of the site, (5) landowner interest in maintaining the prairie, and (6) additional factors such as jeopardy to tract. This proposal will protect 1,630 acres as NPBs. Two areas are targeted – the bluff prairies (also called goat prairies) along the Root River and additional NPB easements on the native mesic prairie with rare species on the terrace just above the Minnesota River in Blue Earth County.
Strategic habitat conservation is defined as an iterative process of developing and refining a conservation strategy, making efficient management decisions, and using research and monitoring to assess accomplishments and inform future iterations of the conservation strategy. The priority setting process for acquiring and protecting state lands described above meets this definition.