Root River Protection and Restoration
$2,750,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for agreements to acquire land in fee for scientific and natural areas under Minnesota Statutes, sections 86A.05, subdivision 5, and for state forest purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 7, and to acquire permanent conservation easements as follows: $2,122,000 to The Nature Conservancy and $628,000 to the Minnesota Land Trust. Up to $100,000 is for establishing a monitoring and enforcement fund, as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. A list of proposed acquisitions and permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Healthier populations of endangered, threatened, and special concern species as well as more common species.Remnant goat prairies are perpetually protected.High priority riparian lands, forestlands, and savannas are protected from parcelization and fragmentation.Rivers, streams, and surrounding vegetation provide corridors of habitat.Landlocked public properties have increased access for land managers.Stream to bluff habitat restoration and enhancement will keep water on the land to slow runoff and degradation of aquatic habitat.Springshed protection.
TNC, Private Source
This project will protect and restore declining habitats for important wildlife species in strategically targeted areas of outstanding biodiversity in Southeast Minnesota’s Root River watershed. It will result in increased public access and expanded habitat complexes critical to the state.
Importance of the Project Area:
The Root River Watershed of Southeast Minnesota is as rich in habitat for game and nongame wildlife species as it is in aesthetic beauty. Long valleys rimmed with dry prairies and hardwood hills are bisected by coldwater trout streams. Unlike any other part of the state, much of the watershed and the greater Mississippi River Blufflands have been largely untouched by glaciers for 500,000 years. As a result of this unique geology, the Blufflands—are home to diverse habitats. No other region in the state demonstrates this diversity and uniqueness of habitats.
While much of the region has been converted to cropland, pasture and rural development, many bluffs and valleys of the watershed are still home to high quality cliffs, forests, oak savannas, and prairies, including 40 different native plant community types mapped by the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) covering nearly 38,000 acres. The Root River watershed represents an extraordinary priority: there are 111 species of state-listed rare plants and animals in the watershed, many of them concentrated in the 353 sites of biodiversity significance mapped in the watershed by MBS.
Thanks to this diversity, the area is highly regarded for turkey and deer hunting along with trout fishing, hiking and biking. Outdoor recreation is a significant component to the local economy and heritage, drawing visitors from across the upper Midwest. However, less than 3% of the Root River Watershed is open to the public and relatively very little is in any kind of protected status. Moreover, growth of nearby communities like Rochester and LaCrosse are increasing rural development with bluff top and remote country homes. More roads, buildings and associated infrastructure further fragments an already fragmented landscape, disturbing forest habitat and increasing already high erosion rates. In addition, farming practices have increasingly encroached on these unique habitats including tracts in this proposal and have had significant impacts to water quality.
To maintain this legacy of the unique natural habitats, there are three primary needs or opportunities in the region: 1) expand the amount of protected land—both public and private—in strategic locations based on existing protected lands and high-quality habitat; 2) maximize the quality of this protected habitat through well-executed restoration and enhancement projects; and 3) increase public access to these unique habitats in this area of the state with relatively little public lands.
Investment in the Root River watershed by the Outdoor Heritage Fund would expand and connect larger contiguous blocks of protected lands, allowing land managers to restore and maintain native habitats at a scale difficult to accomplish with fragmented ownership. An example of this is the frequent prescribed fire burns necessary to reclaim the unique “goat prairies” and oak savanna from the cedar and buckthorn hillsides, which is most effective at larger scale.
Certain habitat complexes stand out in the watershed, including the different units of the R.J. Dorer Memorial Forest, state parks, and larger blocks of existing conservation easements. These complexes serve as hubs for additional protection through strategic fee title and conservation easement acquisitions. This proposal aims to enhance this prior conservation investment and ensure that the legacy of the Blufflands region is preserved for the future.
Overall Scope of Work:
This project has three primary components: 1) fee title acquisition of approximately 479 acres of forest and 150 acres of prairie along 2.5 miles of coldwater trout streams adjacent to state forest land, scientific and natural areas and a state park; 2) Restoration and enhancement of 241 acres of prairie and forest habitat within these protected habitat complexes; and 3) Strategic protection of 500—700 acres of high-quality habitat on private lands within these complexes through the acquisition of conservation easements. Project partners include The Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Land Trust. Priority for these three activities will be placed on targeted tracts within high biodiversity conservation complexes identified by project partners as representing the highest quality and most diverse habitat types in the watershed.
The Nature Conservancy will coordinate with MN DNR on all potential fee-title acquisitions. The Nature Conservancy will assist the participating DNR Divisions by conducting all or some of the following activities: initial site reviews, negotiations, appraisals, environmental reviews and acquisition of fee title. In the event the Conservancy comes into the chain of title, it will transfer the property to the DNR. The property acquired with this funding will be owned and managed by the DNR as State Forest or Scientific and Natural Areas, which will be open for public hunting and fishing.
Note: Three tracts out of 6 included in this proposal for acquisition also appear on a MN DNR Forestry LSOHC proposal. TNC and Forestry are coordinating on the acquisition of these tracts. The inclusion of the tracts on both proposals is an emphasis of their value and synergy between Forestry and TNC. In the event one proposal is funded, and to the extent that these 3 tracts can be acquired with that funding, funds in the other proposal will be directed to other acquisitions on the list.
Restoration and Enhancement
Restoration plans and activities will be coordinated with DNR Forestry and Nongame leads for specific units. TNC will contract with CCM as much as possible and other local vendors for invasive brush removal and prescribed fire on 121 acres of bluff prairie and oak savanna restorations. TNC will coordinate with SNA staff on the reconstruction of 120 acres of prairie, oak savanna and hardwood forest upon completion of an SNA acquisition included in this proposal.
Conservation Easement Acquisitions:
To complement the fee title acquisitions described above, the Minnesota Land Trust will acquire permanent conservation easements on 500-700 acres of high quality prairie, forest and riparian habitat in the watershed. Priority will be given to important private parcels that are near-by or adjacent to existing protected habitat complexes.
The Minnesota Land Trust works only with conservation easements that are perpetual. These easements prohibit land uses or development that negatively affect important habitat and other conservation values.