Habitat Protection/Restoration in Dakota County-Phase V
During this grant funding timeline, this project only protected one 14-acre, permanent natural area conservation easement; but was able to restore and enhance way more than the anticipated 178 acres and 157 acres, respectively, of wildlife habitat, by restoring a total of 696 acres and enhancing 251 acres prior to the funding deadline.
Through the Dakota County Land Conservation Program, the County has been protecting high-quality natural areas for wildlife habitat and improved water quality, outside its regional park system, since 2003.
As with many conservation acquisition efforts during the term of this grant, modifications were made to accommodate evolving circumstances. As a result, Dakota County acquired only one conservation easement that protected 14 acres of: wetlands (8.4 acres); a small portion of Chub Creek (145 feet); and 5.5 acres of cropland restored to natural vegetation. The County's voluntary program can be unpredictable. An application round is held each year to accept submittals for potential conservation easement projects. Project Prioritization Criteria are used to score and rank project applications. Some projects move through the process to closing, and some stall-out or are withdrawn for a variety of reasons. It's strange that only project was completed during the acquisition phase of this grant; which is why in future grants, the County extended the window of time to complete acquisitions, because sometimes it just takes more time to get to the closing. An extended acquisition timeframe will provide greater flexibility in completing projects.
Regarding restoration efforts, the County successfully restored 696 acres, involving 15 parcels. The County requires not only Natural Resource Management Plans (NRMPs) for each natural area easement, but requires that landowners sign a Management Agreement (MA) that outlines restoration and maintenance activities, who is responsible for the work, and how each activity will be funded, using cost estimates from accepted contractor proposals. Restoration work involved enhancement of 251 acres of parcels that include 7 miles of shoreline. Restoration activities included: restoring agricultural land to natural vegetation; removing of invasive species, like buckthorn; establishing test areas to determine the most effective way(s) to remove invasive species; and forest and prairie seeding to re-establish or enhance native species diversity.
Significant habitat restoration and enhancement occurred at Whitetail Woods-Vermillion Highlands in the central part of Dakota County. The largest, highest quality natural area within the Vermillion River Corridor is Vermillion Highlands. The 437-acre Whitetail Woods-Vermillion Highlands Habitat Project site is owned by Dakota County and is part of a larger landscape of protected lands encompassing more than 4,000 acres, including the adjacent Vermillion River WMA and AMA, and the Vermillion Highlands Research, Recreation and Wildlife Managment Area. This project restored or enhanced the following habitat types at the site:
• Prairie: 117 acres restored and 37 acres enhanced
• Forest: 113 acres enhanced
• Wetlands: 11 acres restored and 101 acres enhanced
This site currently supports populations of Blandings turtle, eagle, sandhill crane, deer, eastern cottontail, wild fur-bearing game (fox, coyote, mink, and beaver), wild turkey, pheasant, wood duck, and other waterfowl. Restoration and enhancement activities anticipate an increase in the populations of these and many other species, which will augment populations on the adjacent WMA and AMA areas. In addition, the project anticipates more diverse populations of non-game species. Baseline populations will be monitored.
$1,190,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for a contract with Dakota County to acquire permanent conservation easements and land in fee and to restore and enhance habitats in rivers and lake watersheds in Dakota County. Up to $15,000 to Dakota County is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. Lands acquired or lands with easements 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. A list of proposed land acquisitions and restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Restored 696 acres, protected 14 acres in easement, enhanced 251 acres