Metro Big Rivers Phase 4
$1,720,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for agreements to acquire land in fee and as permanent conservation easements and to restore and enhance natural systems associated with the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix Rivers as follows: $450,000 to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Trust, Inc.; $160,000 to the Friends of the Mississippi; $210,000 to the Great River Greening; $450,000 to the Minnesota Land Trust; and $450,000 to the Trust for Public Land. Up to $80,000 is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund, as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. A list of proposed land acquisitions and permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
A network of natural land and riparian habitats will connect corridors for wildlife and species in greatest conservation need.
Protected habitats will hold wetlands and shallow lakes open to public recreation and hunting.
Core areas protected with highly biologically diverse wetlands and plant communities, including native prairie, Big Woods, and oak savanna.
Private Source, FMR, Federal, state, local and/or private, City of St. Paul, City of St. Paul, City of Andover
Metro Big Rivers' restoration and enhancement partners (FMR and GRG) achieved their goals, converting through restoration a former rail yard in the urban core to 32 acres of prairie and enhancing 98 acres of prairie and forest at four other public conservation sites in the metropolitan area. The easement partner (MLT) exceeded goals and permanently protected 131 acres under two conservation easements in Washington County. The fee title acquisition partners (MVT and TPL) were unable to complete the major acquisition they pursued together for the MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge due to landowner change of mind. The OHF grant funds spent were leveraged almost 1:1 with $800,350 in other, mostly non-state funds.
Metro Big Rivers partners’ Phase 4 accomplishments, process and methods are described below. Additional information, photos and site maps are provided in attachments about each project accomplished.
Friends of Mississippi River (FMR) enhanced forest and prairie habitat on 54 acres in Dakota and Washington Counties. These sites are situated within the Mississippi River corridor and provide important habitat for a variety of wildlife. Over 320 species of birds use the corridor for spring and fall migration, and need stopover sites like these two natural areas for refueling. In addition, with populations of pollinator species declining, there is need to increase the quality and quantity of pollinator-friendly habitat, even with small habitat patches, to prevent further declines. These sites are also near or adjacent to other protected natural areas, adding important benefits of habitat linkages for wildlife. FMR’s work included $31,400 in leverage funds and in-kind support from local partners and high school students to complete the following activities:
· Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park - FMR enhanced 35 acres of oak forest, 3 acres of remnant bluff prairie, and 1 acre of prairie at this natural area in Cottage Grove. Activities included forestry mowing and hand-cutting invasive woody vegetation, foliar treatments for re-sprouting stems, broadcasting native seed and conducting prescribed burns.
· Vermillion Linear Park - FMR enhanced 6 acres of riparian forest and 9 acres of prairie at this natural area on the Vermillion River in Hastings. Activities included hand-cutting invasive woody vegetation across the entire project area, foliar treatments for re-sprouting woody stems and herbaceous invasives, broadcasting native seed, and planting native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and sedges. Additional prairie-specific activities included grassland prep (sprays, burn, tilling, and harrowing), native seeding, mowing, spot treatments and a prescribed burn.
Great River Greening (GRG) exceeded its original goals by restoring and enhancing 76 acres total in Anoka and Ramsey Counties (66 acres were proposed). Leverage funds of $131,950 helped GRG restore 32 acres of prairie, enhance another 5 acres prairie and enhance 39 acres forest, as follows:
· Martins Meadows - GRG enhanced 39 acres of forest habitat on this City of Andover Open Space site situated on the Rum River (29 acres were proposed). Activities included removal of woody invasives (common buckthorn, honeysuckle, amur maple), tree thinning, woody encroachment removal, mowing, seeding and planting. The improved habitat will benefit Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), including red-shouldered hawk, blanding’s turtle and gopher snake, all of which have documented occurrences just up and down stream of the site.
· Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary (Trillium Nature Preserve) - This former rail yard on St Paul’s east side was transformed through a major restoration effort into a new naturalized area that reflects its original state. Over the course of the project, 32 acres were restored to prairie and an additional 5 prairie acres were enhanced through woody invasives removal. Activities included mowing, herbicide application, tree thinning, tree planting and prairie seeding. The restoration of this site presented unique challenges because removal of contaminated soil required use of heavy equipment, thereby compacting the soils and requiring additional seeding preparation work to establish vegetation. The nature sanctuary is a refuge for wildlife in an otherwise urban complex. It also offers residents who are otherwise underserved in this part of St Paul access to natural space and wildlife.
Minnesota Land Trust (MLT) exceeded its goals by closing on two perpetual conservation easements within the St. Croix River corridor in Washington County. In total, 131 acres of high-quality habitat were protected by permanent easement under MBR 4, surpassing the 120-acre goal. MLT leveraged $637,000 in donated value across both easement acquisitions, a 2:1 ratio relative to acquisition funding provided by the OHF grant. The two properties protected under permanent conservation easements are:
· Old Mill Stream (Kingston) -- This 44-acre easement protects high-quality wetlands, forest and grasslands along 5,920 feet of Old Mill Stream, a state-designated trout stream in Washington County with a viable population of brook trout. The easement is abutted by William O’Brien State Park on three sides. Approximately 22 acres of the property are characterized as a Site of Moderate Biodiversity Significance by the DNR due to the presence of rare species and moderate quality natural communities, which provides key habitat for a variety of Species in Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), including red-shouldered hawk, northern long-eared bat and least weasel. This property is located within the Audubon Society’s St. Croix Bluffs Important Bird Area (IBA), which functions as a vital migratory corridor. In particular, it is important nesting grounds for great blue heron and bald eagle.
· St. Croix River (Docksteader Trust) -- This 87-acre easement protects high-quality mesic hardwood forest along the bluffs of the St. Croix River Valley in Washington County. The protected property is directly adjacent to a scenic easement held by the National Park Service, which is part of a connected corridor of scenic easements extending 11 miles along the St. Croix River north of Stillwater. The protected property lies within an Important Bird Area (IBA) of global importance identified by the Audubon Society, and provides important habitat for a variety of Species in Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN).
Minnesota Valley Trust (MVT) & Trust for Public Land (TPL): MVT and TPL were unable to acquire a large, high-priority property in Hennepin County for the Upgrala Unit of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, negotiations that were moving forward ended when a member of the landowner group (a hunting club) changed their mind about selling. Club rules required two-thirds of shareholders to agree to the sale and did not allow the property to be divided. Consequently, MVT and TPL did not expend funds from this appropriation.