Prairie Recovery Project Phase V
$3,940,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for a contract with The Nature Conservancy to acquire native prairie, wetlands, and savanna and restore and enhance grasslands, wetlands, and savanna. A list of proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan and must be consistent with the priorities identified in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. 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. Annual income statements and balance sheets for income and expenses from land acquired with this appropriation must be submitted to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council no later than 180 days following the close of The Nature Conservancys fiscal year.
Wetland and upland complexes will consist of native prairies, restored prairies, quality grasslands, and restored shallow lakes and wetlands - Acres of parcels protected with fee-title acquisition that have MN County Biological Survey high quality prairie designation.Protected, restored, and enhanced aspen parklands and riparian areas - Acres of parkland protected through fee-title acquistion; acres of aspen removed from prairies.Water is kept on the land - Acres of wetlands protected through fee-title acquisition.Protected, restored, and enhanced nesting and migratory habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need - Acres of habitat enhanced to provide a mosiac of habitat types across prairie core geographies.Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - Consistency of protected and enhanced parcels with Prairie core areas identified in MN Prairie Conservation Plan.Key core parcels are protected for fish, game and other wildlife - Consistency of fee-title purchased parcels with prairie core goals outlined in the MN Prairie Conservation Plan.Expiring CRP lands are permanently protected - Acres of expiring CRP lands protected through fee-title acquition. CRP acquisition prioritized by proximity to other protected grasslands..Remnant native prairies and wetlands are perpetually protected and adequately buffered - Acres of prairie with MN County Biological Survey designation as high quality prairie protected through fee-title acquisition.Improved condition of habitat on public lands - Acres enhanced through accelerated implementation of prescribed fire, woody vegetation removal, invasive species treated, and conservation grazing.Water is kept on the land to reduce flood potential and degradation of aquatic habitat - Acres of wetlands protected through fee-title acquisition.Restored and enhanced upland habitats - Acres enhanced through accelerated implementation of prescribed fire, woody vegetation removal, invasive species treated, and conservation grazing.Agriculture lands are converted to grasslands to sustain functioning prairie systems - Acres of agricultural land purchased in fee title that are restored to a high diversity native species plant community.Increased wildlife productivity - Increased vegetative community structural and biological diversity.Remnant native prairies are part of large complexes of restored prairies, grasslands, and large and small wetlands - Prioritization and purchase of land in core and cooridor geographies as defined in the MN Prairie Conservation Plan .
This proposal contributes to the goals of the MN Prairie Conservation Plan by protecting 900 acres of native prairie/wetland/savanna; restoring 150 acres prairie/wetland; and enhancing 5,000 acres grassland/savanna. Fee-title acquisitions and enhancement projects will be targeted to prairie core and cooridor geographies as identified in the Plan.
Problems to be addressed: The threats to Minnesota’s prairies, prairie potholes, grasslands and savannas include: continued losses of native and restored grasslands through conversion to other uses; degradation of existing grasslands and wetlands due to encroachment by woody vegetation and other invasive species; and insufficient capacity of responsible agencies to optimally manage grasslands under their care. Social and economic pressures excacerbate these problems including: Perceived loss of local taxes and local incomes when land is acquired by public entities; state budget implications for long-term management of public lands and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes; and limited capacity for public agencies to coordinate work among multiple stakeholders to maximize efficiencies and results across landscapses.
Scope of work: “Phase 5” will build on the successes of previous phases of the MN Prairie Recovery Project by continuing to target and acquire native prairie habitats and accelerating management on permanently protected grasslands. The project is a direct implementation strategy identified in the MN Prairie Conservation Plan and activities and geographies reflect the collective prioritization developed within the Plan. An estimated 900 acres of existing and restorable grassland, prairie pothole complex, and/or savanna will be permanently protected through fee-title acquisition from willing sellers within 5 prairie core landscapes as identified in the MN Prairie Conservation Plan. Acquired lands will be held by The Nature Conservancy, subject to a recorded notice of funding restrictions pursuant to the grant with the MN DNR. Lands will be open to public hunting and fishing as provided in the Constitution. Protection efforts will be coordinated with other partner protection programs (e.g., DNR Wildlife Management Area, MN Native Prairie Bank, US Fish & Wildlife Service Easement programs). A separate and dedicated internal fund has been established by The Nature Conservancy to cover ongoing land-management costs. Income generated by agricultural leases (grazing, haying, native seed harvest, and/or cropping), private contributions, and donations will be held in this account and used to pay for property taxes. An estimated 150 acres of cropland will be restored to diverse, local-ecotype grassland or grassland/wetland complex (part of the above protected acres). An estimated 5,000 acres of grassland complex will be enhanced on permanently protected lands, including land purchased with OHF funds and held by the Conservancy, MNDNR Wildllife Management Areas, US Fish & Wildlife Service Waterfowl Production Areas and private lands subject to perpetual conservation easements, to increase native species diversity and improve critical wildlife habitat. Management practices to be implemented will include prescribed fire, conservation grazing and/or haying, removal of woody vegetation, control of invasive species, and related restoration activities. Much of this work will be accomplished by contract. Maximum use will be made of Conservation Corps of Minnesota (CCM), private local businesses and other organizations as needed and appropriate. On-the-ground staff provided by this grant will form and lead local coordination and implementation teams; identify protection, restoration and enhancement needs and opportunities within the focus area; work with DNR and FWS staff to delineate conservation projects on public lands; coordinate deployment of contract and staff resources to protected conservation lands; contact and work with private landowners to coordinate agricultural activities/leases on appropriate protected conservation lands (e.g., haying, grazing, seed harvest, cropping); educate lessees on appropriate conservation grazing/haying practices; supervise management of lands acquired above; plan and conduct prescribed burns; secure other funding for conservation practices; and other activities related to prairie conservation in the focus areas. Four biologists will coordinate activities in the focus areas. Biologists will be employed by the Conservancy and will be located in a DNR or FWS office. This will foster better coordination and collaboration among partners, while accelerating enhancement work on public lands. Contracts will be let to provide a high level of enhancement activities to new and existing protected conservation lands. These activities will improve the habitat value of public lands that are not currently receiving adequate management treatment, while simultaneously providing jobs for CCM and local businesses. To ensure goals and outcomes are consistently achieved across all project areas a project coordinator will oversee implementation of the above activities and provide administrative support for budget monitoring and reporting. Temporary seasonal habitat crews will be employed by the Conservancy to provide additional capacity for land management during critical periods like spring burn season. These crews will create flexibility for enhancement projects and will maximize the ability of specialized skilled personnel like burn bosses to increase the number of acres annually treated. Specific tracts for acquisition and protection are continually being developed. We will work with the Council and staff to formalize specific parcels for purchase prior to purchase negotiations. Parcels for restoration and enhancement are identified in partnership with DNR, FWS, and other partners.
Results to date: Phases 1 -3 of the Project have received a combined $12.5 million in Outdoor Heritage Fund support, with an additional $5.3 million recently appropriated for Phase 4. With this funding we have protected 2,350 acres of prairies, wetlands and grasslands and enhanced approximately 20,000 acres of permanently protected grasslands. Average per acre costs for acquired properties continues to rise within a robust agricultual land marketplace but has averaged around $1,350/acre.Costs vary widely with land in southern and central Minnesota costing substantially more than in the northwest. Despite rising costs we are on track to meet and exceed our goals within the timelines of the grants. Enhancement work has included a focus on accelerating the implementation of prescribed fire, extensive woody vegetation removal, building the infrastructure for conservation grazing on public lands, and identification and mechanical and chemical treatement of invasive plants. Much of the work has been achieved by working with private local contractors, Conservation Corps of MN, and through employment of temporary seasonal work crews. With our proven track record we are confident that we can meet or exceed the goals stated here. Results to date suggest that revenue-generating activities can play a role in supporting long-term costs like property taxes but are unlikely to sufficiently cover all ongoing costs. We plan to continue exploring and building on this model while working to raise shortfalls through private contributions.