Grassland Conservation Partnership Phase II
$1,475,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with The Conservation Fund, in cooperation with Minnesota Land Trust, to acquire permanent conservation easements and restore high priority grassland, prairie, and wetland habitats as follows: $64,000 to The Conservation Fund; and $1,411,000 to Minnesota Land Trust, of which up to $100,000 is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund, as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. Subject to evaluation criteria in 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 acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan and must be consistent with the priorities in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.
Protected, restored, and enhanced aspen parklands and riparian areas - TCF and MLT will seek lands that are suitable for conservation easements, either existing grasslands or croplands that can be converted to grasslands, which are situated as to complement existing protected areas. TCF will initiate the landowner contact with producers interested in pursing working grassland easements and provide to MLT viable projects to pursue. MLT will obtain conservation easements ensuring permanent protection of the grasslands with habitat management plans. The site in Kittson County lies within the core of the Aspen Parklands and is within the Aspen Parklands IBA, on of the most diverse IBAs in the state..Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - TCF and MLT will seek lands that are suitable for conservation easements, either existing grasslands or croplands that can be converted to grasslands, which are situated as to complement existing protected areas. TCF will initiate the landowner contact with producers interested in pursing working grassland easements and provide to MLT viable projects to pursue. MLT will obtain conservation easements ensuring permanent protection of the grasslands with habitat management plans. .
Privatelandowner donations, Private
This project will protect high priority grassland, prairie and wetland wildlife habitat with 400 acres in conservation easements throughout western Minnesota's core prairie areas. Grasslands represent one of Minnesota's most threatened habitat types.
A Conservation Legacy in Jeopardy
Native grasslands are the most threatened ecosystem in Minnesota and one of the most threatened in the world. The LSOHC defined Prairie Section has suffered the greatest habitat loss of any of the five sections examined by the Council. Furthermore, only a third of the remaining habitat in the Prairie Section is permanently protected. To compound the problem, in the next five years approximately 800,000 acres of Minnesota’s conservation lands enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will expire. Unless action is taken to continue protection of these lands by using a combination of conservation programs, many will likely be converted to cropland, eliminating most of the wildlife habitat and associated ecosystem benefits.
This project will combine two land protection strategies in order to protect high-priority grassland wildlife habitat: conservation easements on private lands and fee-title acquisition for public lands. The Grasslands Conservation Partnership project builds upon the success The Conservation Fund (TCF) and the Minnesota Land Trust (MLT) have had in protecting important wildlife habitats in the previous pilot phase of this project using conservation easements that use innovative managed grazing and grassland management as an important conservation tool for Minnesota.
As one of the founding partners in the development of the Prairie Plan, TCF has been working with other non-profits, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to protect more than 600 acres of prairie habitat in the past two years. Part of this effort was working with BWSR, MLT, and DNR to develop a strategies for protecting working grasslands that are vital for wildlife in the prairie region. This joint effort enabled MLT to establish the first privately-held working-grassland conservation easement in Minnesota in 2015 protecting nearly 300 acres in Pope County.
Science has proven that proper application of haying and grazing techniques can be used to mimic natural processes necessary for healthy grass natural communities. Our colleagues at The Nature Conservancy and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have proven these techniques successful in Minnesota over a significant period of time. Working with these partners, as well as the Land Stewardship Project, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association and the McKnight Foundation, we are confident that the time is right to expand our previous efforts to protect even more land. All easements will be held and monitored by MLT. TCF will perform the initial landowner contact and negotiations leading to the establishment of a conservation easement.
Lands targeted for conservation easement protection through this project will meet the following criteria:
1. Lands with significant existing prairie or grassland habitat
2. Lands near or within the Core Areas identified in the Prairie Plan
3. Lands adjacent to or in close proximity to permanently protected land (e.g. WMA, WPA, CREP, TNC preserves, etc.)
4. Lands which will help establishing connections to permanently protected land wherever possible and create larger habitat complexes
5. Lands which may also include low production cropland that can be converted back into grasslands, thereby increasing overall grassland habitat
MLT and TCF will use the above criteria to generate a systematic ranking system to vet potential projects and ensure maximum conservation values. We will also screen for producers with a proven ability to successfully implement the best management practices for conservation grazing. Whenever possible, MLT will use the proven “reverse-bid” model to ensure that conservation funds are used as efficiently as possible. This reverse bid model first ranks the projects according to their habitat values and then ranks them according to the landowner's bid on what they are willing to get paid for the conservation easements. Projects that MLT will prioritize are those with the greatest conservation benefits at the lowest cost to the State.
TCF and MLT are two of only four land trusts operating in Minnesota accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. The Commission awards accreditation to land trusts that meet national standards for excellence, uphold the public trust and ensure that conservation efforts are permanent. Accreditation is not a one-time action and land trusts must maintain their accredited status by applying for renewal every five years.