Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition , Phase V
$2,450,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for a contract with The Nature Conservancy in cooperation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire land in fee or permanent conservation easements within the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Habitat Preservation Area in western Minnesota for addition to the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. Lands acquired with this appropriation may not be used for emergency haying and grazing in response to federal or state disaster declarations. Conservation grazing under a management plan that is already being implemented may continue. Subject to the evaluation criteria under Minnesota Rules, part 6136.0900, priority must be given to acquisition of lands that are eligible for the native prairie bank under Minnesota Statutes, section 84.96, or lands adjacent to protected native prairie. A list of proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan and must be consistent with the priorities in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.
USFWS and TNC biologists and GIS analysts measured the following outcomes from this funding:
Total acres protected - 887 acres
Acres of native prairie - 664 acres
Other native habitat protected - 76 acres of wetlands and 8,500' of streamfront
Projects located in MN Prairie Conservation Plan core/corridor/complex - 100% (10 of 10 properties)
Acres identified by MN Biological Survey as biologically significant - 553 acres
Expiring CRP lands permanently protected - 86 acres
This appropriation allowed the permanent protection of 887 acres in western Minnesota. These properties included 664 acres of remnant native prairie, 76 acres of associated wetlands complexes, and 8,500' of streamfront. For this phase we originally planned to protect 740 acres with a minimum of 375 native prairie. Both targets were exceeded - 120% of total acres and 177% of native prairie acres. The land and easements purchased with this funding by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have been transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are now units of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
The Council’s 25-Year Framework identifies protecting Minnesota’s remaining native prairies as a critical priority. The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan (Prairie Plan) describes the importance of preserving the cores/corridors/complexes where there are the greatest opportunities for the long-term conservation of these prairies. The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition (NTP NWR) program shares these goals. This program is a cooperative, multi-year effort of The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve and protect our remaining prairies and the surrounding habitat that buffers them. With Outdoor Heritage Fund support, this partnership is working together to advance these goals.
This phase included the purchase of both fee title properties and permanent habitat easements. The original targets for fee and conservation easement acquisition were 485 acres and 255 acres, respectively. Both goals were exceeded - 520 acres of fee (107% of goal) and 367 acres of easements (144% of goal).
This program’s top criterion for selecting projects is the presence of remnant native prairie. As noted above, 664 acres of remnant native prairie were permanently protected. Another important goal is protecting lands in existing complexes of habitat and protected lands. All of the acquired properties were in areas identified as a priority core/complex/corridor in the Prairie Plan. We also target lands with high-quality habitat and the rare species this habitat supports. Data from the Minnesota Biological Survey confirm the conservation value of the lands conserved. 553 acres were identified as having significant biodiversity, with 272 of these ranked as having high or outstanding biodiversity. These lands support a wide-range of prairie species of concern, including Greater Prairie Chickens, Wilson's Phalaropes, Blandings's Turtles, and Regal Fritallaries. Another highlight in this phase was the protection of several rare outcrops of Sioux Quartzite and the species that depend on these outcrops.
This program also includes a relatively small restoration/enhancement component. The prioritization criteria favor parcels that are in good condition. Because of the nature of parcel ownership, however, some properties included small areas of converted or degraded lands needing grassland or wetland restoration/enhancement. This work is completed where needed to get these properties into a sustainable condition for future management. Restoration/enhancement activity with this round of funding included 149 acres of grassland site preparation/seeding or interseeding/mowing, 6 acres of tree and/or dense vegetation removal, and 98 acres of scattered vegetation removal. These acres are not reported as a separate outcome in the Output Tables in order to avoid any possible double-counting.
One thing to note when reviewing the attached Budget Spreadsheet. 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 resulted from the shift from paper to online reporting during this phase. See the final version of the Accomplishment Plan, approved in January, 2017, for the final figures.