Jack Pine Forest/Crow Wing River Watershed Habitat Acquisition
$3,570,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association to acquire in fee and restore and enhance forest habitat lands in Cass and Hubbard Counties for county forest purposes. A list of proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Forestlands are protected from development and fragmentation - These forest lands will be permanently protected from conversion to non-forest uses and will be managed pursuant to an approved forest management plan. .
This project will protect in fee approximately 1,800 acres of forest habitat that are at significant risk of conversion to row crop agriculture. It will also restore jack pine, an increasingly rare tree species, in the project area.
Problem to be Addressed
The past decade has seen a significant loss of forest habitat within the Crow Wing River Watershed due to the conversion of that habitat to row crop agriculture and other development. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that about 42 square miles of pine forest have been cleared or are at elevated risk of being cleared and converted to croplands.
These forest lands provide critical habitat for many game and non-game animals, including rare and threatened species. Species that rely on this habitat include white-tailed deer, black bear, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, woodcock, wild turkey, bobcats, grey wolves and numerous others. Jack pine stands are interspersed throughout the project area, but are becoming increasingly rare. These jack pine stands are home to a number of unique species including the Northern Goshawk, a species of special concern in Minnesota, and Blanding’s turtle, a state listed threatened species.
The forests in the Crow Wing River Watershed also protect rivers, streams, lakes and ground water by acting as a buffer and a filter of pollutants and chemicals that degrade water quality. A map of the Crow Wing River Watershed is attached (Attachment A).
Goals and Scope of Work
To slow the loss of forest lands and the habitat provided by them, the project will protect by acquisition in fee approximately 1,800 acres of high priority habitat within the Crow Wing River Watershed.
The lands to be protected are currently owned by Potlatch Corporation (Potlatch). The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) and Potlatch have identified over 37,000 acres of Potlatch land within the project area that fulfill the habitat protection goals of the project. See project map attached (Attachment B). Please note that all depicted acres are included within the parcel list so as to make available the best habitat parcels for inclusion in the negotiated purchase list, which should total approximately 1,800 acres.
This Request for Funding seeks an amount sufficient to purchase a portion of the Potlatch lands identified as fulfilling the project goals. The remaining Potlatch parcels that do not receive funding under this application are well-suited to being the focus of a future Request for Funding by MDHA.
MDHA, in evaluating the parcels for selection, will use the following criteria to prioritize those parcels to be included in the project:
1) Habitat quality;
2) Specific habitat cover-type with an emphasis on jack pine and mixed-age forest lands;
3) Immediacy of threat of conversion; and
4) Adjacency to other large forest blocks to maximize habitat benefits.
MDHA believes that acquired lands should be managed pursuant to the forest management standards established in previous forest habitat projects funded through the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
To achieve the goals of this project, the acquired fee parcels will be transferred to Cass and Hubbard Counties to hold in fee and manage.
This project also seeks funding ($150,000) to restore jack pine to the landscape. The total amount of acreage restored will depend upon the number of parcels where jack pine is the native cover type of acquired parcels as well as the appropriate prescription to best restore jack pine to each parcel. The amount of jack pine within the project area has been significantly reduced through a combination of conversion to row crop agriculture or replacement with other forest cover types such as red pine plantation. This loss is depicted by the jack pine distribution map attached (Attachment C). Jack pine is a relatively rare forest type in Minnesota and provides habitat for a number of unique species. It is well-suited to the sandy soil types in the Crow Wing River Watershed. This project will use a number of tools to restore jack pine that may include planting seedlings and aerial seeding as well as prescribed burns for jack pine regeneration.
The acquisition of these parcels and the restoration of jack pine forest will provide significant value beyond the protection of key forest habitat. The project will also benefit water quality by preserving forest cover that helps to filter pollutants from percolating through the sandy soils that are prevalent in the Crow Wing River Watershed. It will provide public access for hunting and recreational activities that currently does not exist. It will enable land managers of adjacent state and county lands to easily access those lands for forest management. And it will provide wood fiber from the land to supply the local mill in Bemidji.
In developing this proposal, MDHA actively engaged the county boards for Cass and Hubbard Counties and sought their support. Each of the County Boards has expressed its endorsement of the project by unanimously passing a resolution supporting it and urging full funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. See county support resolutions attached (Attachments D1, D2, D3).
Project partners include The Conservation Fund (TCF) and the Ruffed Grouse Society. MDHA, along with its conservation partners, will seek private contributions for the project at a national scale to leverage the funding provided from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. TCF will assist MDHA in the land acquisition process. MDHA will continue to work with the counties and other conservation partners to continuously improve this project as it progresses.