Fisheries Habitat Protection on Strategic North Central Minnesota Lakes - Phase III
$1,716,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire land in permanent conservation easements to sustain healthy fish habitat on cold water lakes in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, and Hubbard Counties for agreements as follows: $113,000 to Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation; and $1,603,000 to Minnesota Land Trust, of which up to $120,000 to Minnesota Land Trust is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. A list of permanent conservation easements 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 - Private shoreline habitat and forested parcels totaling approximately 400 acres will be permanently protected from development and fragmentation. Riparian forest lands under easement will maintain healthy habitat complexes for upland and aquatic species; forest cover will enhance water quality habitat for tullibee lakes. Conservation easement properties will protect fish habitat to insure high quality fishing opportunities.
Landowner Donations, Minnesota Land Trust
The Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation in partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust will protect high priority critical fish habitat and the surrounding watersheds on 38 tullibee "refuge" lakes by securing conservation easements. We will permanently protect approximately 400 acres. If a lake's watershed has less than 25% land disturbance the lake has a high probability to maintain clean water and healthy lake ecosystem. State of Minnesota reports indicate this region could see 64% population growth by 2030. Protecting key parcels will help sustain both recreational and sport fisheries in North Central Minnesota.
Sustaining a strong angling heritage revolves largely around protecting fisheries habitat. Resurging shoreland development pressures and looming climate changes are a direct threat to our lakes ecology. This project will focus on fisheries habitat protection on lakes that have the best biological integrity for a sustained sport fishery. Our protection efforts are focused on Tullibee (aka cisco) a preferred forage fish of walleye, northern pike, muskellunge and lake trout. They require cold, well oxygenated waters, a condition most common in lakes with deep water and healthy watersheds. Minnesota DNR Fisheries researchers studied tullibee lakes and designated 68 lakes in Minnesota as the primary "refuge lakes" for tullibee that need protection. We are targeting thirty-eight (38) of these lakes located in Hubbard, Crow-Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties. Many are Minnesota's premier recreational lakes. Fisheries research has shown that healthy watersheds with intact forest are fundamental to good fish habitat. Conservation Easements will move 1 Tullibee refuge lakes to protected class and 2 lakes close to the protection threshold. We analyzed our targeted lakes and prioritized landowner parcels based on program criteria which include sensitive shoreland, type of wetlands, and proximity to an inlet or outlet. Due to the level of interest in the program, we are applying for a Phase III of this effort. To ensure the best conservation return on the state's investment, landowner willingness to donate a portion of the easement value will be a key component of the parcels evaluation. The conservation easement partners will include County Soil & Water Districts, MNDNR Fisheries, Minnesota Land Trust and LLAWF. LLAWF is going through Land Trust Alliance accreditation, which could result in expansion of our current role as grant administrator, landowner outreach and technical support to include holding conservation easements. LLAWF & MLT will work to ensure appropriate staffing levels to execute the grant.Per the MNDNR Fish Habitat Plan 2013, the quality of nearshore fish habitat in lakes is determined largely by shoreland disturbance, impacting water quality, oxygen levels, and nutrient content. Lakeshore development decreases a lake's ability to function as a healthy ecosystem.