Protecting Pinelands Sands Aquifer Forestlands - Phase II
$2,180,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire forest lands in Cass and Wadena Counties for wildlife management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8, and to acquire land in fee for state forests under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 7. A list of proposed land acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Forestlands are protected from development and fragmentation - Forestlands will be permanently protected from conversion to non-forest uses by fee acquisition which will reduce potential development and fragmentation and consolidate public ownership in larger blocks that will be sustainably managed by the Department of Natural Resources..
Protect up to to 1,500 acres of at risk, priority forest habitat adjacent and near the Crow Wing River that will consolidate and link public forestland parcels, provide management and recreational access and protect surface and ground water quality.
This Phase 2 project continues the efforts of the initial phase of the Pinelands Sands Project to identify and protect with fee acquisition up to 1,000 acres of priority forestland and associated habitats in west-central Minnesota in an area that is experiencing significant deforestation as a result of conversion of forests to irrigated agriculture. The sandy soils which underlie much of the forestland in this area support extensive pine and mixed pine/hardwood forests and are also very suitable for the growing of potatoes and other row crops which rely on groundwater for irrigation. The resulting sales and forestland conversions have many resource impacts including the outright loss of forest habitat, parcelization and fragmentation of large blocks of forest habitat, impacts to surface and ground water quality and quantity, and reduced access to public lands for management and recreational purposes. This threat has resulted in the formation of a DNR interdisciplinary team to work with the landowner and other partners including counties to protect the most critical parcels for their fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, watershed, access and timber benefits.
Funding from Phase 2 would focus on habitat protection within a core area along and nearby the Crow Wing River in west-central Minnesota that includes the Huntersville State Forest, Crow Wing Chain Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Huntersville WMA , Burgen Lake Prairie WMA, Menahga WMA and Yaeger WMA. Habitats protected include pine, oak, and aspen forests, brushlands, and wetlands. Over 1 1/4 mile of river frontage along the Crow Wing is included in the potential acquisition parcels. The Crow Wing River is one of the state's best river routes for canoeists, with many rustic campsites and miles of undeveloped, wooded shorelines. Parcels acquired will be managed by the appropriate DNR Division as either State Forests or State Wildlife Management Areas. This is an important public use area that provides a wide range of public recreational opportunities including hunting, hiking, fishing, canoeing, trail riding and camping.
The properties are currently managed for timber production by the current owner and are annually leased to private individuals and are off limits to the general public for hunting or other uses. Following DNR acquisition, the private leases would terminate and the properties would be managed for public access according to State Forest and Wildlife Management Area policies.
The project will protect properties containing high conservation and natural resource values as determined by a team of area staff who used a science based assessment to evaluate resource values on the various tracts. Values considered in the assessment included shoreline habitat, wildlife habitat, terrestrial ecological importance, groundwater protection, watershed protection, access, trails, forest consolidation and forest productivity. The parcels were further evaluated based on their threat of conversion to agriculture using the following criteria: topography; soil drainage; proximity to other irrigated agricultural land; size of parcel; and soil survey data.
This area is an important focus of DNR management and protection and includes several State Wildlife Management Areas and a State Forest covering over 20,000 acres of state ownership in the vicinity of the Crow Wing River within the general project area. The entire area provides abundant and diverse habitat for a wide range of forest and non-forest species including many popular game species such as white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, woodcock, black bear, timber wolves, small game, and waterfowl. The deep
sandy soils that are typical of the watershed along with the low gradient and numerous tributaries feeding into it allow the river to maintain a fairly constant water level throughout the year. The consistent flow and good water quality of the river contribute to a stable fish population. The sandy bottom and relatively shallow depth of the river favors white suckers and northern redhorse which are the predominant fish species. Northern pike, largemouth bass and walleye are also present.
This project is consistent with the Minnesota State-Wide Conservation and Preservation Plan priorities to "Protect large blocks of forestland" and to "Improve connectivity and access to recreation". In addition, it supports other priorities including the "Protection of priority land habitats", "Protection of critical shoreland of streams and lakes" and "Supports and expands sustainable practices on working forest lands". The project also addresses two of the priority actions listed in the Outdoor Heritage Fund: A Twenty Five Year Framework for the Northern Forest Section: 1) By protecting shorelands along the Crow Wing River which is one of the DNR's Designated Water Trails; and 2) By protecting lands from conversion to agriculture, the project prevents parcelization and fragmentation of large forest blocks.
This project is also strongly consistent with the Minnesota Forests for the Future Program goals of conserving Minnesota's working forest lands to meet the state's future ecological, recreation and economic goals. This project is also consistent and supports several other plans including Tomorrow's Habitat for the Wild and Rare, the Minnesota Forest Resource Council's West Central Landscape Plan, and the Wadena County Comprehensive Plan.
The project assessment has been completed with the involvement and support of County land departments and County Boards. The landowner has been actively involved in the assessment process and has a long history of successful natural resource transactions with the DNR and has indicated a willingness to pursue additional land sales with the Department. Now is an opportune time to work with this landowner to acquire a significant number of key parcels within the management units and along the Crow Wing River.