Reinvest in Minnesota Wetlands Reserve Program Acquisition and Restoration, Phase 2
The Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Partnership will accelerate the restoration and protection of approximately 4,620 acres of previously drained wetlands and associated upland native grassland wildlife habitat complexes via perpetual conservation easements. The goal of the RIM-WRP Partnership is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, while optimizing wildlife habitat on every acre enrolled in the partnership. The RIM-WRP partnership enables Minnesota to leverage $1.4 of federal WRP funding for every state dollar available through RIM Reserve. This appropriation request of $6.895 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) will leverage $9.653 million in WRP funds to Minnesota. We expect to enroll approximately 46 permanent conservation easements totaling 4,620 acres of wetland grassland wildlife habitat complexes. This will enable the RIM-WRP partnership to restore approximately 230 previously drained wetland basins totaling 1,525 wetland acres, and the restoration of native grassland prairies on approximately 3,095 acres. Since WRP is an annual funded program through the 2008 Federal Farm Bill, this leveraging opportunity is available to Minnesota for at least the next four years.
Minnesota's original wetland and prairie landscapes have been lost at an alarming rate over the last century and a half of European settlement. Minnesota's prairies once comprised nearly 20 million acres, extending from the borders of Iowa and Wisconsin in the southeast to North Dakota and Manitoba in the northwest. Less than 1% of this native prairie remains. Minnesota has lost an estimated 42 percent of its original 16 million acres of wetlands to drainage or fill activities. The loss of wetlands is most severe in the prairie regions of the state. Approximately 90% of prairie wetlands have disappeared and in the southwestern area of the state losses are as high as 99%.
Prairie wetlands are particularly important for migratory waterfowl. Although the North American pothole region contains only about 10% of the waterfowl nesting habitat on the continent (including a significant portion of Minnesota), it produces 70% of all North American waterfowl. This extensive loss of Minnesota's prairie and wetland habitat has lead to the decline of many wildlife and plant species originally abundant in the state. Of the nearly 1,200 known wildlife species in Minnesota, 292 species, or approximately one-fourth, are at risk because they are rare; their populations are declining or they face serious risks of decline due to loss of habitat.
The RIM-WRP Partnership, the premier private lands wetland restoration program in the nation, is a local-state-federal partnership delivered locally by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to ensure the RIM-WRP Partnership is a longstanding and successful program in Minnesota. In addition, this partnership is possible through collaboration among many local, state and federal partners including NRCS, BWSR, local SWCDs, Ducks Unlimited (DU), the Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA) and the United States Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS).
The RIM-WRP Partnership will protect and restore an estimated 230 wetland basins totaling 1,525 wetland acres and associated restored native grassland prairie on 3,095 acres in 46 permanent conservation easements totaling 4,620 acres. These restored wetlands and native grassland complexes will provide critical habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wetland dependent wildlife species in Minnesota. Wetlands provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. They improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, protect biological diversity, sequester carbon and increase recreational opportunities.
Described as the premier private lands wetland restoration easement program in the nation, the RIM-WRP partnership combined Minnesota's RIM Reserve conservation easement program and the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Combining RIM Reserve and WRP allowed OHF to leverage Federal Farm Bill conservation dollars to Minnesota. Utilizing both programs resulted in competitive payment rates to landowners and sharing of the costs associated with perpetual easement acquisition and restoration by both the federal and state programs.This opportunity was offered statewide but had a priority focus in the ecological provinces of the state that have experienced significant losses of wetland and associated prairies. It was delivered by local NRCS staff, local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff and assisted by program staff from both NRCS and the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR). In addition, Ducks Unlimited (DU) contract employees and staff provided by Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA) assisted in program delivery. Since the SWCD is responsible for the local delivery of the RIM Reserve program to private landowners on behalf of the State of Minnesota, they were ideally suited to work in concert with their local NRCS staff to efficiently and effectively deliver the RIM-WRP partnership. Once an easement is acquired NRCS is responsible for maintenance, inspection and monitoring during the life of their 30-year WRP easement. The state of Minnesota assumes sole responsibility via its RIM Reserve easement once the 30-year WRP easement has expired. BWSR partners with local SWCDs to carry-out oversight, monitoring and inspection of its conservation easements.Final Summary:In 2010, 2011, and 2012, RIM-WRP sign-ups occurred. 100's of applications were generated that far exceeded this appropriation.46 RIM-WRP easements were acquired on 4,166 acres. $5.2 million of RIM funds from OHF were paid directly to landowners which leveraged over $9.8 million of federal WRP funds. Approximately 1,416 acres of wetlands and 2,750 acres of adjacent uplands have been protected.The RIM-WRP Partnership successfully demonstrated that the State of Minnesota can cooperatively work with a federal partner (NRCS) and through a local delivery system (SWCD, NRCS, DU and MWA) to implement a permanent easement protection program that yielded thousands of acres of permanently protected wildlife habitat. This significant leverage was due to the amount of easement payments, conservation plan payments, and other costs the NRCS contributed to this partnership. The NRCS made the bulk of the easement payment portion through 30-year WRP Easement acquisition, while BWSR paid an additional portion for the Permanent RIM Easement.NRCS paid approximately 75% of the restoration costs for these easements, with RIM picking up the remaining 25%. The use of NRCS Practice Standards, along with BWSR's Native Vegetation Guidelines led to very high diversity mixes being seeded. The level of wetland restoration was dependent on restorable extent that would not impact lands outside the easement area. BWSR & NRCS evaluated restoration extent during our scoring review to ensure restoration was actually feasible, then followed up with site analysis and surveys.Several easements contained CRP contracts, where looming expiration meant a risk of losing habitat that was already in good condition. We estimate that 450 acres contained CRP contracts that were set to expire. Upon execution of the WRP Easement and RIM Easement, CRP contracts were required to be terminated.BWSR and the NRCS are committed to seeing all restorations through to ensure all sites provide beneficial habitat. Sixteen easements have restorations fully completed. Due to delays with easement processing, restoration was also delayed in several cases. Thirty easements still have some level of restoration yet to occur. BWSR is held to the statutory requirement that requires restoration of the easements we acquire. This restoration includes establishment of acceptable vegetation, if the current cover does not adequately meet site goals.
$6,895,000 in fiscal year 2011 is to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to acquire permanent conservation easements and restore wetlands and associated uplands in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture Wetlands Reserve Program. A list of proposed acquisitions and a list of proposed projects, describing the types and locations of restorations, must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan. All restorations must comply with subdivision 9, paragraph (b).
Wetland and upland complexes will consist of native prairies, restored prairies, quality grasslands, and restored shallow lakes and wetlands
Water is kept on the land
Protected, restored, and enhanced nesting and migratory habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation need
A network of natural land and riparian habitats will connect corridors for wildlife and species in greatest conservation need
Protected, restored, and enhanced shallow lakes and wetlands
Expiring CRP lands are permanently protected
Water is kept on the land
Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for waterfowl, upland birds, and species of greatest conservation nee
Restore and Protect 46 easements totaling 4,166 acres of protected and restored wetland and native grassland wildlife habitat complexes