Prairie Chicken Habitat Partnership of the Southern Red River Valley Phase II
$2,269,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Pheasants Forever, in cooperation with the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, to acquire land in fee and restore and enhance lands in the southern Red River Valley for wildlife management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8, or for designation and management as waterfowl production areas in Minnesota, in cooperation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 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.
Protected, restored, and enhanced nesting and migratory habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need - Number of acres of uplands protected and restored..Key core parcels are protected for fish, game and other wildlife - Most parcels are within core areas as defined by the MPCP. Most also abut existing WMAs or WPA which will create larger blocks of contiguous habitat. Most tracts have some remaining native prairie on them meeting a second goal of the MPCP of protecting remaining native prairie. Percent increase of core protected areas measured..
The Prairie Chicken Habitat Partnership will permanently protect, restore, and enhance 650 acres of prairie chicken habitat in the Southern Red River Valley of Northwest Minnesota. Land protected will become either WMA or WPA and open to public recreation.
Problem addressed and Scope of work
This grant is a partnership with the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society and Pheasants Forever to protect and restore grasslands in the Southern Red River Valley of Northwestern Minnesota. While the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society and Pheasants Forever are most interested in their namesake birds, both groups are also concerned with prairies and prairie wildlife in general. Efforts to protect native prairie and restore prairie will help dozens of non-game and game species, insects, and plants. Many of the tracts proposed for acquisition under this grant contain native prairie. Conserving these last tracts of native prairie is one of the primary goals of the MN Prairie Conservation Plan (MPCP). By protecting and restoring grasslands and wetlands, we will also help serve other goals of the MPCP such as increasing the abundance and diversity of wildlife.
Prairie chickens, and other prairie grouse, are most famous for their spring mating rituals on leks every spring. Some hotel owners in northwest Minnesota can tell when the prairie chickens are mating as they see an increase in business from birders wanting to watch the prairie chickens. The prairie chicken hunting season was closed in 1943 due to small populations, but a limited season was reopened in 2003 and continues today.
Prairie chickens were once found across 90% of Minnesota. Hunters reported harvesting wagon loads of birds over the course of a day or two. Today, with the loss of their grassland habitat across the state, prairie chickens are restricted to the Agassiz Beach Ridges in northwest Minnesota. In the last 2-3 years an additional 60 leks have been located to the north and east of the Beach Ridges. In the spring of 2014 three new leks were found in Lincoln and Pipestone Counties. Even with the increase in known birds, the state’s prairie chicken population is relatively small and could suffer from inbreeding and other genetic problems. One severe winter storm in the northwest could dramatically reduce their population. Therefore it is imperative that we protect as much habitat as possible within their current range to maintain the population at current levels. In the long-term, it is hoped that MPCP can protect enough habitat within the state to allow the birds to move into areas such as the Glacial Lakes core area and down into the Big Stone and Coteau region of Southwest Minnesota.
Prairie chickens require large blocks of grassland, with a minimum 320 acres. The MPCP is ideally suited for prairie chicken management with core areas containing large contiguous blocks of grassland and smaller grassland patches scattered across the landscape that allow birds to maintain populations outside the core areas as well as move across the regional landscape. This grant will benefit grassland birds by adding onto existing WMAs and or WPAs and making them larger. In some cases, these tracts will connect WMAs or WPAs creating one large tract from several small tracts of public land. In addition to grassland conservation, most tracts have extensive wetlands. Restoring and maintaining these wetlands will have several benefits. These tracts sit on the edge of the flood-prone Red River Valley. These wetlands will store water during flood periods. Additionally, wetlands and grasslands are both very good at sequestering and storing carbon. These tracts will provide ecosystem benefits to society in addition to wildlife habitat.
How priorities were set / parcel selection and scoring process
We developed a scoring priority based on six criteria. These included distance to the nearest prairie chicken lek, location in or outside of a core area from the MPCP, distance to the nearest public hunting lands (WMA or WPA), tract size, current grassland type (native prairie, restored prairie, brome, or rowcrop), wetland density, and predicted waterfowl breeding pairs based on the USFWS’s ‘Thunderstorm’ maps.
Habitats affected – restored, enhanced, protected
This proposal will protect native and restored prairies, sedge meadows, and wetlands. Funds will be used to do any immediate restoration or enhancement activities on the sites using local ecotype seed while following pollinator BMPs. In the long-term, the DNR or Fish & Wildlife Service will be able to better manage and enhance the property for wildlife once they have direct management abilities on the sites for activities such as prescribed fire and brush/tree control. Most of these sites are already in grass. However, some of them are currently in row crop production. These acres will be restored as part of the grant activity.
Stakeholder opposition and involvement
No stakeholder opposition has been encountered. These tracts were placed on the list because the landowners contacted the DNR about selling their land to the state to preserve the wildlife value of those acres. This proposal is driven by the interest of MPCS and PF to maintain the habitats, wildlife, and the hunting traditions in this area. Local government has been or will be contacted and their support sought.