Mississippi Headwaters Habitat Partnership
$3,002,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire lands in fee and for permanent conservation easements in the Mississippi Headwaters and for agreements as follows: $1,217,000 to The Trust for Public Land; and $824,000 to Minnesota Land Trust, of which 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 acquisitions must be included as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Increased availability and improved condition of riparian forests and other habitat corridors - The Headwaters Habitat program will yield many of these outcomes. The targeted acquisitions will connect existing public lands and prevent fragmentation. This will also help yield healthy populations of many aquatic and terrestrial species, including the important fisheries of the region. Because we are focusing on shoreline, aquatic habitat will be improved. Several of the parcels will provide access to public lands that currently have poor or no access. These lands will also provide excellent outdoor recreational opportunities. Because a number of the targeted lands are SNA additions, populations of species of special concern and habitats that have experienced substantial decline will be improved..
The Mississippi Headwaters Habitat Partnership will protect, restore and enhance high priority habitat land in fee and easement in the quickly developing Mississippi Headwaters landscape resulting in connectivity of shoreline and forest habitat, and water quality benefits.
The Mississippi River is one of the world’s greatest river systems in terms of size, habitat diversity, biological productivity, and sources of drinking water. It is the fourth longest river in the world with over 18 million people depending on this watershed for drinking water supply. The critical Headwaters Region, roughly the first 400 miles of the main stem and associated watersheds, is home to some of our state’s most outstanding freshwater ecological resources. It provides outstanding habitat for fish and wildlife and is a major route for migratory waterfowl. It is also an unparalleled recreational resource for outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, boating and hiking. These natural resources located just several hours north of the Twin Cities have led this area to become one of the most rapidly growing areas in Minnesota, which also faces intensified land use practices.
The Mississippi Headwaters Habitat Partnership seeks to protect sensitive shoreline and habitat resources in the Headwaters area from fragmentation in order to ensure these recreational and natural resource benefits continue into the future. The idea to form a Partnership around habitat protection and restoration in the area grew out of a series of habitat conservation successes and related partnership work in the Headwaters area in recent years: LaSalle Lake, Mississippi River Northwoods, numerous forest legacy projects; shoreland easements initiatives; aquatic management areas additions; and more. During this same time period, The Trust for Public Land organized and hosted a series of six stakeholder gatherings around broader water quality, habitat protection and recreational access issues in the Headwaters area with DNR, MLT and other stakeholders in order to explore the connections between individual conservation outcomes. This Partnership is an effort to initiate more coordination, leverage and targeting in the Headwaters Area going forward.
Habitat targeted for protection and restoration by this partnership will further the goals and strategies outlined in numerous state / area resource management plans, including Aquatic Management Area Acquisition Plan; Tomorrow’s Habitat for the Wild and Rare; and, Outdoor Heritage Fund: A 25 Year Framework.
The Mississippi Headwaters Habitat Partnership is specifically three partner organizations - The Trust for Public Land, Minnesota Land Trust, Minnesota DNR – working to protect, restore and enhance existing priority habitat as well as what will no doubt be emerging habitat priorities for fish and game in the Headwaters Region. Initial Partnership efforts will likely focus on the mainstem of the Mississippi River; key tributaries; critical lakesheds; specific natural resource communities; habitat lands with a proven link to water quality; and, recreational access. Work of each of the three initial partners is outlined below:
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) will protect priority lands in fee. Ten priority parcels have been identified for acquisition, the majority of which contain shoreline on the Mississippi or its tributaries. These lands provide excellent habitat for a variety of species, connect to other public land and would be conveyed to the state to be managed as WMAs, AMAs, SNAs or State Forest Land. Several of the parcels could also be conveyed to counties for permanent stewardship. It is expected the requested funding would result in protection of up to two or three of these properties.
The Minnesota Land Trust (MLT) will protect critical shoreline habitat with conservation easements. With more than 75% of Minnesota’s landscape in private ownership, private land protection is essential to meet our state’s conservation goals. This is especially true in the shorelands of the Mississippi Headwaters which have an even higher percentage of private ownership and which are also one of the primary targets for land use conversion. Several priority landowners have been identified which help build important habitat complexes by buffering already protected lands such as WMAs or AMAs. In addition, this project will help identify other important protection opportunities by working with partners such as the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation and willing landowners to further the state’s conservation goals. We anticipate the funding requested would help protect up to four of targeted properties.
DNR will focus on protection both in fee and easement. Nine potential tracts have been identified that will protect undeveloped shoreline. Five of these tracts add to existing state land – either Aquatic Management Areas (AMA) or Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) - and four would establish new Aquatic Management Areas. All will protect the critical “transition zone” that exists where aquatic habitat transitions into upland/riparian habitat. Upland habitat to be protected is primarily forested land. The requested funding would result in protection of up to four of these nine parcels.
The Partnership expects to evolve in the years ahead to include emerging areas for habitat protection, refined priorities and additional implementation partners.