Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition - Phase VI
$3,430,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement 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. Subject to evaluation criteria in 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.
Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - This program’s top priority is protecting native prairie. The majority of lands acquired will be native prairie and associated native habitats such as wetlands. The parcel selection criteria described above also favor properties located within prairie/grassland/wetland complexes identified in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan and near existing protected land. The goal is to sustainably protect and buffer native prairies and associated habitats within a context of protected grasslands, wetlands, and other habitats. Results will be reported for the number of acres of native prairie, wetlands, and other native habitats protected and how these properties are connected to other protected lands..
The Nature Conservancy and US Fish and Wildlife Service will cooperate to permanently protect native prairie and associated complexes of wetlands and other native habitats in western Minnesota by purchasing 1,090 acres of fee title properties and/or habitat easements.
The Council’s 25-Year Framework identifies the protection of Minnesota’s remaining native prairies as a critical priority. Only a small portion of this once vast prairie still exists. The Minnesota Biological Survey identified approximately 235,000 acres of remaining native grasslands. Of these, about half are without permanent protection and are still in danger of conversion. Waterfowl, grassland birds and the other wildlife depend on these lands and the surrounding shallow lakes, wetlands, and grasslands. It’s vital that we protect and buffer these remnant native prairies before they are lost.
The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) was established in 2000 to help meet this need. The Refuge’s mission is to preserve, restore, and manage a portion of the remaining northern tallgrass prairie and associated habitats at widespread locations through the western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa historic range. The number of acres purchased, however, has been limited by shortfalls in acquisition funding since the establishment of this refuge. The current land acquisition budget cannot keep up with landowner interest in this program.
Funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund will allow the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS or Service) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to significantly accelerate this work. The Service and TNC will cooperate on purchasing approximately 1,090 acres of native prairie and associated habitat in the 49 Minnesota counties included in the refuge boundary. Approximately 545 acres will be fee title acquisitions and 545 acres will be protected with permanent habitat easements. When available, high quality fee title tracts will be the top priority for acquisition. Funding, however, may also be used to purchase habitat easements.
The majority of the lands protected will consist of native prairie and associated native habitats including lakes, streams, wetlands, and other native habitat. Because of the nature of parcel ownership, some of the acreage will likely include smaller areas of converted or degraded lands needing grassland or wetland restoration. Restoration of these lands will be completed where needed.
The Service and TNC biologists and analysts use the following criteria when setting project priorities: 1) Native prairie on all or most of the tract, or adjacency to existing native prairie, 2) Within core areas or critical corridors identified in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan, 3) Near existing complexes of protected land, 4) Land with greater habitat and species diversity, or hosting unique species, 5) Suitability for public recreation, 6) Avoiding existing structures. The presence of native prairie is the most significant factor considered. The others are weighed in roughly the order shown.
The development of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Refuge is guided by the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Habitat Protected Area Environmental Impact Statement listed below. The process of putting this statement together involved 75 meetings with more than 2,000 participants. These meetings included 10 open houses attended by 360 people. Over the past 15 years, the Refuge has become a familiar and accepted part of the landscape in western Minnesota. Widespread landowner interest in being part of this program is evidence of this.
The success of earlier phases of this program demonstrates that we can make a significant impact. This program purchased its first property less than 15 months ago. Since then, progress has been rapid. 1,356 acres have been added to the Refuge – 570 acres of fee purchases, and 786 acres of habitat easements. Of this, 870 acres are classified as native prairie. This has been achieved at an average cost of approximately $1,820 per acre. The Service and TNC are working with landowners to finish acquiring 1,310 additional acres with 714 acres of native prairie. We are talking with 20 additional landowners owning more than 3,000 acres and 1,750 acres of native prairie. With sufficient funding, this program has the potential to significantly increase the percentage of Minnesota’s remaining native prairies that are permanently protected.
As approved by the Council at the October 7, 2014 meeting. As provided under the subdivisions titled “Payment Conditions and Capital Equipment Expenditures” (ML 2015, First Special Session, Ch. 2, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 8) The Nature Conservancy (the Conservancy) may be reimubursed for salary and fringe benefits based on a provisional fringe benefits rate consistent with Appendix IV to 2 CFR Part 200 - Indirect (F&A) Costs Identification and Assignment, and Rate Determination for Nonprofit Organizations and negotiated annually with the Conservancy’s cognizant agency. Within 120 days of the end of each Nature Conservancy fiscal year, the Conservancy will provide MN DNR with the actual fringe benefits rate for the prior year and reconcile any overpayment made by the State.