Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition, Phase 3
$1,720,000 the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with The Nature Conservancy to acquire land or permanent easements within the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Habitat Preservation Area in western Minnesota for addition to the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. A list of proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan. The accomplishment plan must include an easement monitoring and enforcement plan.
Protected 752 acres of remnant native prairie and 78 acres of associated wetland complexes for a total of 977 acres.
The Nature Conservancy Personnel
This appropriation allowed the permanent protection of 977 acres in western Minnesota. These properties included 752 acres of remnant native prairie, 78 acres of associated wetland complexes, 8,950' of stream front, and 9,400' of lakeshore. Lands and easements purchased through this program by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) are transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and become units of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. These lands are owned and managed by the FWS.
The Council’s 25-Year Framework identifies protecting Minnesota’s remaining native prairies as a critical priority. Only a small portion of this once vast prairie still exists. The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) identifies approximately 249,000 acres of remaining native prairie. Of these, about half are without permanent protection and at risk of conversion. The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge was established to preserve, restore, and manage a portion of this remaining prairie and associated habitats.
The funding in this appropriation has allowed us to significantly accelerate progress towards these goals. 977 acres in western Minnesota were permanently protected with conservation easements. These properties included 752 acres of remnant native prairie, 78 acres of associated wetland complexes, 8,950' of stream front, and 9,400' of lakeshore. The area protected by the Refuge increased by 18.4%.
Data from MBS confirms the conservation value of the lands protected. Of the 977 acres, 811 were classified by the Survey as having Outstanding, High, or Moderate biodiversity significance. Over half, 497 acres, was ranked as Outstanding.
The original target for native prairie protection was 744 acres. We exceeded this goal, with 752 acres.
The initial goal for total acres-protected was 1,470 acres. This was based on acquiring a mix of lands in Northwest, Central and Southwest Minnesota. Land values vary widely across the state. The highest-quality lands available during this phase were in areas with higher costs. This made it a challenge to accomplish the 1,470 acre goal.
In a multi-year program, like this one, individual phases are likely to be over or under the target. It is, however, important that the program can meet-or-exceed its goals over a longer period. Acquisition work with the ML 2010, 2011, and 2012 appropriations is now complete. The acres protected in ML 2010 and 2012 were significantly more than projected. This more than outweighed the shortfall in the ML 2011 phase. Together, the accomplishment plans for the three phases committed to 2,605 acres. A total of 2,796 acres have been protected.
Another challenge was the balance between fee and easement acquisition. The appropriation language and original accomplishment plan for this phase permitted the purchase of either fee title properties or permanent habitat easements. The final balance of fee and easement work would depend on the opportunities available.
The ‘either/or’ language in the earlier, paper-based accomplishment plans didn’t carry over when the plan was migrated to the online system. The new system didn’t allow ‘or’ situations. The acres all appear under Protect in Fee w/o PILT in the attached Output Tables.
In the end, a total of 977 acres of conservation easements were acquired. These were the best conservation opportunities available during this phase. This is borne out by the 744 acres of native prairie protected and the 83% of these lands classified as having significant biodiversity by the Biological Survey.
Again, across multiple phases, there is likely to be more balance between fee and easement acquisition. The ML 2010 phase funded more fee acquisition protection. ML 2011 and 2012 purchased more easements. Our current acquisition work, with ML 2014 funding, is doing significantly more fee protection.
A couple of additional things to note when reviewing the attached Budget Spreadsheet/Output Tables/Parcel List:
First, the Request column in the Budget and Cash Leverage Table is out of date. The figures shown are from the originally approved accomplishment plan. It does not reflect any later amendments. This discrepancy also resulted from the shift from paper to online reporting.
Second, the Murray County #3 property on the Parcels tab shows the dollars/acres for only a portion of this parcel. This purchase was split between two appropriations, ML 2010 and 2011. The total cost was $846,225 and the total area was 187 acres. The ML 2010 appropriation paid for $734,623 of this. These costs, and a proportional share of the acres accomplished, were reported with that round. The $111,602 and 25 acres shown here are the remaining amounts.