Enhanced Public Grasslands
$1,320,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Pheasants Forever in cooperation with the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society to restore and enhance habitat on public lands. The criteria for selection of projects must be included in the accomplishment plan. A list of proposed restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the final report.
Enhanced 21,553 acres of prairie
This project used a combination of invasive tree removal, seeding, and prescribed fire to improve habitat quality, diversity, and productivity on public lands in Minnesota. As we lose habitat to conversion and encroachment, it is increasingly important to maximize wildlife production on existing permanently protected lands. Today's public lands are expected to function at the highest level for not only wildlife usability but now also for other non game rare and threatened species, pollinators, and for water quality efforts in the state. To meet today's expectations, public lands need to be enhanced from their original cover type which could have been planted with different priorities then today's. This program was developed in cooperation with the MNDNR and USFWS with the goals of developing higher quality biologically significant habitat that provide maximum usability by wildlife, pollinators, and non game species alike. PF, in cooperation with the MNDNR and USFWS, was able to contract out and enhance 21,553 acres of permanently protected public lands within this grant, which exceeded the proposed acres by 3,053 acres. PF was able to exceed the acre goal with less money than anticipated, spending only $1,308,000 of the allocated $1,320,000. Additionally PF came in under budget for personnel costs only spending $40,300. Because of the efficiency and high level of collaboration at which PF operates we are able to deliver high quality habitat enhancements at a lower than anticipated cost.This completed program enhanced 21,553 acres of permanently protected habitat and 1,148 acres of native prairie.
Greater than 95% of Minnesota’s prairies have been lost to the plow and development. Many of the remaining acres of native and restored grasslands have been degraded from lack of fire and the spread of invasive volunteer trees. Many of these acres have low plant diversity and are not reaching their potential for wildlife production. Many older public hunting areas were purchased as brome fields or were restored using low diversity seed mixes. As mentioned above, today's expectations of habitat cover on public lands have changed. We are demanding public lands function at a higher level for many reasons. In 1972 a Wildlife Biologist, Barnet Schranck, once said “The days for setting lands aside to be left idle for wildlife are past, and management techniques are needed to keep habitat in the more vigorous, earlier stages of ecological succession”. Here 45 years later we are facing the exact same problems, however, we have significantly less ‘idle’ lands putting more pressure on permanently protected lands to be as productive as possible. As biology advances, we understand that we need to attempt to replicate the diversity as seen in native prairies when feasible to be able to have a chance to sustain wildlife that depend on this diversity.
For the sites needing a higher diversity of forbs and grasses, we used a mix of cultivation, herbicide and prescribed fire to prep the site and plant with a high diversity native grass and forb mix. Other sites may have had a good grass and forb base already but needed a prescribed fire to remove the duff layer, set back non-native grasses and to promote forb expression. Prescribed burning is a great tool for enhancing grassland habitat for waterfowl, gamebirds, and songbirds. Prescribed fire usually was conducted in the spring after the non-native grasses started growing which would set back these undesirable species giving native species a leg up. Invasive tree removal was done mechanically by using heavy equipment to cut, treat, and pile woody debris to be burned at a later date. Special considerations were taken to reduce rutting and the spread of invasive species from different sites. Tree removal was often done in the winter months when the ground is frozen. This appropriation has allowed the DNR and USFWS to enhance public lands (i.e. DNR Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and USFWS Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA)) to the new expectation the public desires. All sites were enhanced following recommendations and by working in close collaboration with the area wildlife managers.
As you will see in the attachment labeled 'project list', projects were bundled together based on activity type and location in order to get the lowest possible price. For this reason most projects in bundles do not have a per tract cost, but instead a total cost for all projects in that specific bundle. To calculate the per project cost in the parcel tab we took the total bundle price and averaged it by the number of projects in that bid bundle. A few projects in the attached 'project list' show 0 acres because these same project acres were already counted within this proposal within another activity category. It is also apparent in our attached project list that some per project costs are much lower than others within the same enhancement category. These project costs differ for various reasons. One reason being that the number of woody species on the tree removal sites can vary greatly. For example, on a tract enhanced through tree removal there can be scattered removal of encroaching trees or there could be the removal of heavily wooded areas such as old building sites or larger cottonwoods surrounding a wetland. Costs vary on diversity seedings because in some cases we were able to get match from the USFWS to help lower project costs. Our goal was to get good work done at the most economical price. The average cost of enhancement in this appropriation was approximately $61.00 per acre which we feel is a great price and provides a lot of value for the money.
Swan Lake Waterfowl Production Area is a good example of how funds were used to help achieve management goals. Funds were used to remove undesirable woody vegetation from grassland habitat for migratory birds. Tree removal simulates conditions that existed here before European settlement. At that time, the land was predominantly treeless due to landscape scale prairie fires, so the goal is to recreate those conditions. Swan Lake WPA was infested with undesirable woody vegetation which diminishes the habitat value of the surrounding restored and native grasslands. This tree removal project targeted the undesirable trees invading these grasslands and wetlands. Funds were spent to hire a contractor to remove and chemically treat undesired deciduous and coniferous trees and to pile trees within selected locations on the WPA. The purpose of clearing trees and understory of brush is to restore the original grassland plants and the threatened grassland dependent fauna. Trees were removed by pulling or cutting, cut stumps were treated with an herbicide.
1,148 acres of native prairie was enhanced using prescribed fire in this appropriation. Fire is critical to maintain diversity and disturbance regimes on native prairie sites to keep these ares from becoming overtaken by non-native, more aggressive grass and weed species. Native prairie was identified using MNDNR MCBS native plant communities geospatial layer and historic areal imagery. It is important to continue to periodically enhance native prairie by prescribed fire to keep these areas functioning at the highest level possible as they often support rare, threatened and endangered species that depend on high quality native prairie.
PF used the approved Request for Proposal (RFP) process to solicit contractors and CCM crews to conduct enhancements on lands open to public hunting owned and managed by the DNR and USFWS. PF in collaboration with our local chapter network requested projects from every USFWS and MNDNR office within the priority area. Projects were considered based on location, type of enhancement, and other geospatial factors such as proximity to rare species, native prairie, wellhead protection areas, etc. Consideration was also given to projects within core areas of the MN Prairie Conservation Plan. We were able to “bundle” many projects into one contract (as shown in attached project list) which added to our efficiency and effectiveness. The effectiveness of PF's RFP process can be measured by the fact that PF over delivered on acres while coming in under budget as broken out in the output tables.