MNDNR Aquatic Habitat Protection Phase VIII
$1,578,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire land in fee and permanent conservation easements for aquatic management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, sections 86A.05, subdivision 14, and 97C.02, to acquire permanent conservation easements under the Minnesota forests for the future program pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 84.66, and to restore and enhance aquatic and adjacent upland habitat. Of this amount, up to $153,000 is to establish 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, conservation easements, restorations, and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Improved aquatic habitat indicators - Indicators of aquatic habitat are excellent for the systems we will protect, so maintaining these indicators would be a more accurate way to state the outcome. Surveys of game fish and fish communities, are conducted by DNR biologists. DNR also monitors aquatic vegetation. Fish community and plant community monitoring is funded by the Clean Water Fund..Rivers, streams, and surrounding vegetation provide corridors of habitat - Stream corridors protected by conservation easements will be monitored to assure compliance with terms of the easement..
We will use a programmatic approach to achieve prioritized aquatic habitat protection. We will acquire shoreline on outstanding lakes and conservation easements on trout streams, and use working forest easements to protect water quality in targeted watersheds.
Minnesota's lakes and rivers continue to be threatened by the loss of natural land cover to agricultural, recreational, and urban development, all of which have consequences for water quality and fish habitat. This proposal uses a programmatic approach to achieve prioritized aquatic habitat protection for lakes and trout streams across Minnesota, building on previous work and utilizing expertise in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR). We propose to protect 33 acres (approximately 1.3 miles) of shoreline on our most outstanding lake resources, 3 miles of trout streams, and 333 acres of forested upland to protect water quality in targeted watersheds.
Aquatic habitat protection will occur within the Aquatic Management Area (AMA) designation of the Outdoor Recreation System. AMA's have strong support from conservation groups and anglers because of the multiple benefits of habitat protection and recreational access they provide. The AMA program currently has more than 830 miles of shoreline in over 330 fee title AMA's and more than 600 conservation easements that provide permanent protection of riparian habitat, perpetuate fish and wildlife populations, safeguard water quality, and offer recreational access. Acquisition of AMA's will be a mix of fee title and conservation easements.
We propose to focus AMA conservation easement acquisition in trout streams of Southeast and Northeast Minnesota. Criteria to prioritize potential acquisitions include fishery quality, potential to link with existing easements to increase protected corridors, and the need for access to conduct habitat restoration and enhancement projects. The trout easement program protects the stream bank and riparian area, provides access for anglers, and provides access for restoration and enhancement projects conducted by MNDNR and partner organizations such as Trout Unlimited. The parcel list indicates a representative stream in each county where we may acquire easements; we will use a programmatic approach and may not have acquisitions in all counties, or at the precise location listed.
Fee title AMA acquisition will employ a programmatic approach that provides potential for protection in many areas of the state, but contains clear, objective, and transparent criteria that limit opportunities to “the best of the best.” As a primary screening tool, we will use “Lakes of Biological Significance” scores, which reflect a comprehensive rating system developed by DNR staff, including the presence of outstanding fisheries. Scoring also takes into account wildlife habitat and plant communities. The rating system is described in more detail in an attachment. Rating criteria to prioritize parcels will also include the potential to expand and link existing protected areas, and the presence of sensitive shoreline habitat and vegetation. Lakes facing higher threat levels from development potential will be a higher priority than lakes with sufficient protection already in place. The parcel list indicates a representative lake in counties with Lakes of Biological Significance scores that meet "outstanding" criteria overall and for fisheries. The parcel list and map provide a general guide; several counties have more than one eligible lake, and we do not expect to acquire land in all of the counties listed. With the revised funding recommendation, we anticipate one or two acquisitions, and have reduced the parcel (county) list to focus on the Northern Forested section.
Investing in AMA’s, including both fee title and easements protects stream banks and lakeshores, which are critical components of aquatic systems. However, an exclusive focus on riparian lands is not sufficient by itself to protect aquatic habitat from impacts in the watershed. Conversion of natural cover types to agriculture and urban land cover leads to runoff of nutrients and sediment that diminish water quality and change physical habitat, including the composition and extent of aquatic plant communities. Loss of oxygen in cold, deep water during summer leads to loss of coldwater fishes, including lake trout and cisco. We propose to protect water quality and cold water fish habitat through the use of working forest conservation easements in the watersheds of selected high priority lakes in North-Central Minnesota.
This proposed protection follows the framework of MN DNR's Fish Habitat Plan, which considers both threats and existing levels of protection and puts resources where they have the most significant conservation potential. Research conducted by MNDNR biologists provided compelling evidence that watersheds maintaining 75% of the watershed in natural land cover maintain the excellent water quality necessary to support cisco (tullibee). Many of the lakes in North-Central Minnesota contain lands in permanent protection, including state and national forest, WMA’s, AMA’s, and private lands with conservation easements. The existing protection is significant, but not sufficient to ensure maintenance of current water quality and habitat as threats of land conversion and development continue. To diversify the protection options available, we propose to continue our partnership with MNDNR Forestry with Forests for the Future easements in targeted watersheds. This program purchases permanent conservation easements on private forest land that continues to function as working forest, subject to a management plan employing best management practices. While these easements protect fish habitat, they also provide benefits to wildlife. Sign-up criteria are provided in an attachment in place of a parcel list.
In last year’s proposal, we identified 5 watersheds with outstanding fisheries, including healthy cisco populations, in which achieving a critical level of protection possible, and were recommended for funding to initiate this strategy. A map with the lakes and their watersheds is attached for reference. Additional funding will be required to achieve protection goals. This year, we propose to continue progress, remaining focused on the same lakes in North-Central Minnesota. We are currently developing a prioritized parcel list for the 5 watersheds in cooperation with conservation partners in the region. Continuing the work under way, this proposal will continue to complement, rather than compete with other conservation efforts in the region. As we further develop a comprehensive list of willing sellers, and assess protection achieved by partners, we anticipate a final phase next year to complete the project.