Protecting and Restoring Minnesota's Important Birds Areas

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Outdoor Heritage Fund
Audubon MN and MLT
Recipient Type
Non-Profit Business/Entity
Start Date
July 2015
End Date
November 2021
Activity Type
Land Acquisition
Counties Affected
Otter Tail
Otter Tail
Project Overview

Protect and restore 590 acres of significant wildlife habitat through conservation easements and restoration projects on private lands within Important Bird Areas with an emphasis on those located in within priority areas identified in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.

Project Details

Audubon and Minnesota Land Trust (MLT) designed the Protecting and Restoring Minnesota's Important Birds
Areas Program to provide solutions to declining grassland and waterbird populations due to habitat loss in
western Minnesota.
This program is unique for several reasons: 1) the emphasis on Important Bird Areas, which are essential to
maintaining healthy and diverse bird populations in Minnesota; 2) a commitment to protecting and restoring
working grasslands, remnant prairies and threatened wetlands within these IBAs; 3) the utilization of the cost-
effective, reverse-bid model of evaluating and paying for conservation easements.
In the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands, Audubon utilized a GIS analysis which found that within these IBAs, there are a
total of 339,616 acres of private lands. Of those, 105,000 acres (31%) could be considered wildlife habitat worthy
of conservation (e.g., wetlands, grasslands or woodlands). More specifically, private lands that are both within an
Important Bird Area and a Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan core area total 195,480 acres, of which 51,576
(26%) could be considered of conservation value. It is this 26% of high priority private lands that this project
targeted for protection, restoration, and enhancement in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands.
Specific tracts for easements were identified through a targeted application process as part of this Program’s
innovative scoring system. The evaluation and payment strategy was based on MLT’s successful Avon Hills and the
Wetlands Protection Initiative, which both used a science-based ranking system and reverse-bid model to leverage
the State’s investment on these high-value wildlife lands.
Audubon and MLT focused restoration/enhancement efforts on IBAs and the Prairie Plan’s priority areas within
western and northwestern Minnesota where these efforts would most benefit target species.
Restoration/enhancement work occurred on public lands and private lands previously protected by MLT under
this grant and existing USFWS conservation easements. Easement lands, although permanently protected, often
have a significant need for habitat restoration and enhancement. In addition, program partners restored and
enhanced 524 acres of habitat within Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, as part of the largest tallgrass prairie
restoration projects in North America. These acres enabled MLT and Audubon to further increase the value of
these respective lands for focal species by targeting priority lands prioritized by the USFWS.
Using this model, Audubon Minnesota and MLT protected four properties totaling 485 acres through perpetual
conservation easements and restored and enhanced 2,323 acres of habitat on permanently protected public lands
and private lands protected through publicly funded conservation easements by the USFWS and MLT.
Properties protected through conservation easements under this Program:
Skull Lake (Peterson) – Kittson County. 80 acres
The property falls within the Kittson-Roseau Aspen Parkland Important Bird Area and within the Aspen Parklands
Core Area. The property protects portions of two rare wet prairie native plant communities and is within 3.5 miles
of a 7,000+ acre unit of Skull Lake Wildlife Management Area and four miles of The Nature Conservancy’s Wallace
C. Dayton Conservation and Wildlife Area. The property supports sharp-tailed grouse and their courtship leks.
Skull Lake (Pines Land) – Kittson County. 105 acres
The property lies within the Kittson-Roseau Aspen Parkland Important Bird Area and within the Aspen Parklands
Core Area. The property is located within a complex of natural habitats that provide habitat for elk, moose, gray
wolf and black bear. Skull Lake WMA, which is identified by MBS as being of outstanding biodiversity significance,
is located less than two miles to the south of the property.
Skull Lake (Paine-Smude) – Kittson County. 160 acres
This spectacular property lies within the Kittson-Roseau Aspen Parkland Important Bird Area and within the
Aspen Parklands Core Area. The property borders the 7,000+ acre Skull Lake Wildlife Management Area to the
north and 230-acres of land owned by The Nature Conservancy to the east. The property consists of five native
plant communities, some of which are considered rare or imperiled in Minnesota, including Northwestern Dry-
Mesic Oak Woodland, Bur Oak- (Prairie Herb) Woodland and Dry Barrens Prairie (Northern). The property is
located within a site of high biodiversity significance, as ranked by Minnesota Biological Survey.
Gilchrist Lake (Mulvaney) – Pope County. 140 acres
The property lies in close proximity to over 6,000 acres of existing protected lands that are located within five
miles of the Property. The wetlands and lakes in this area form the heart of Minnesota’s prairie pothole ‘Duck
Factory’ that is of continental significance for waterfowl reproduction. The rolling terrain found on the property
con¬tains a mosaic of mesic hardwood forests, a variety of wetlands, and remnant native prairie. It also contains
4,588 acres of undeveloped shoreline on a bay of Gilchrist Lake, a popular recreational lake. A wide variety of
wildlife frequents this property, including many species of migra¬tory waterfowl and Species in Greatest
Conservation Need.
For this Program, MLT:
1) identified, contacted and negotiated with interested landowners; 2) completed four perpetual conservation
easements totaling 485 acres; 3) documented property conditions and developed habitat management plans for; 4)
dedicated funds for the perpetual monitoring and enforcement of those easements; 5) managed
restoration/enhancement of 1,580 acres of private lands protected through publicly funded conservation
easements held by MLT and USFWS.
Audubon Minnesota:
1) served as Program Manager and local point of contact; 2) assisted with landowner identification and easement
site assessments; 3) managed habitat identification and prioritization on the conservation easements; 4) managed
the restoration/enhancement of 743 acres of lands which are protected through publicly-funded conservation
easements or in public ownership; 5) managed the restoration/enhancement of 524 acres of lands funded through
MLT's appropriation through a subcontract from MLT (those acres are attributed to MLT above); and 6) enhanced
an additional 48 acres on Minnesota Land Trust easements conserved under this Program which are not included
in any deliverable totals since they fall within the already acquired conservation easement.

Legal Citation / Subdivision
ML 2015, First Sp. Session, Ch. 2, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 2(i)
Appropriation Language

$1,730,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for agreements to acquire conservation easements within important bird areas identified in the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan, to be used as follows: $408,000 is to Audubon Minnesota and $1,322,000 is to Minnesota Land Trust, of which up to $100,000 is for establishing monitoring and enforcement funds as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. A list of permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the final report.

2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Direct expenses
Administration costs
Number of full time equivalents funded
Measurable Outcome(s)

78 Wetland acres and 650 Prairie acres (for a total of 728 acres) Restored.  265 Wetland acres and 220 Prairie acres ( for a total of 485 acres) Protected in Easement.  95 Wetland acres and 1,500 Prairie acres (for a total of 1,595 acres) Enhanced.  A total of 2,808 acres impacted.

Source of Additional Funds

Audubon Funds, Landowners

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Audubon Minnesota
Street Address
2355 Highway 36 West ~ Suite 400
Zip Code
(651) 739-9332
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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