Southeast Minnesota Protection and Restoration - Phase III
This project will protect and restore declining habitats and watersheds for important wildlife species in strategically targeted areas of biodiversity significance in Southeast Minnesota. The project will result in increased public access and expanded habitat complexes critical to the state.
The Southeast Blufflands region 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 region and the greater Mississippi River Blufflands have been largely untouched by glaciers for 500,000 years. As a result of this unique geology, no other region in the state demonstrates the diversity and uniqueness of habitats found in the Blufflands. While much of the region has been converted to cropland, pasture and rural development, many of its bluffs and valleys are still home to high quality coldwater trout streams, cliffs, forests, oak savannas, and prairies, including 86 different native plant community types mapped by the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) covering nearly 149,670 acres. This diversity is critical to the State’s enduring legacy of high quality forests, rivers and prairies. The region is home to 183 species of state-listed rare plants and animals in the region, many of them concentrated in the 749 sites of biodiversity significance mapped in the region by MBS. Thanks to this diversity, the area is highly regarded for turkey and deer hunting along with other recreational pursuits such as 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, unlike Northern Minnesota or other regions, only 5% of the region is open to the public and relatively very little is in any kind of protected status. Rapid growth of nearby cities like Rochester and LaCrosse are increasing rural development with bluff top and remote country homes. More roads, buildings and associated infrastructure further fragment an already fragmented landscape, disturbing forest habitat and increasing already high erosion rates. In addition, due to the high price of agricultural commodities in recent years, 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 Blufflands’ unique natural habitats, there are three primary needs or opportunities in the region: 1) expand the amount of protected land 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 an area of the state with relatively little public lands. Investment in habitat protection and restoration in the Southeast Blufflands 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 region, 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 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 two primary components: 1) fee title acquisition of approximately 400 acres of forest and 80 acres of prairie along 3 miles of coldwater trout streams near state forest land, scientific and natural areas, wildlife management areas and a state park; 2) Enhancement of approximately 56 acres of prairie within these protected habitat complexes. Project collaborators include The Nature Conservancy, Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Land Trust. Priority 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 region.
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. The Conservancy will transfer each tract to the DNR. The property acquired with this funding will be owned and managed by the DNR as State Forest, Wildlife Management Area or Scientific and Natural Areas, which will be open for public hunting and fishing.
Restoration and Enhancement:
Restoration plans and activities will be coordinated with DNR Forestry, Wildlife 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 56 acres of bluff prairie and oak savanna enhancement.
Results to Date from Phase I & II:
Fee Acquisition - October 15, 2014, closed on 272 acres of prairie and forest within a Conservation Opportunity Area.
Restoration and Enhancement - We have completed brush and tree clearing on 65 acres of bluff prairie and oak savanna and another 26.5 acres is in progress.
At their October 7, 2014 meeting, the Council requested The Nature Conservancy to add the following language about salary and fringe benefit reimbursement to this Accomplishment Plan:
As provided under the subdivisions titled “Payment Conditions and Capital Equipment Expenditures” (ML 2015, First Special Session, Ch.
2, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 8) The Nature Conservancy (the Conservancy) may be reimbursed for salary and fringe benefits based on a
provisional fringe benefits rate consistent with Appendix IV to 2 CFR Part 200 - Indirect (F&A) Costs Identification and Assignment, and
Rate Determination for Nonprofit Organizations and negotiated annually with the Conservancy’s cognizant agency. Within 180 days of
the end of each Nature Conservancy fiscal year, the Conservancy will provide MN DNR with the actual fringe benefits rate for the prior
year and reconcile any overpayment made by the State.
$2,910,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with The Nature Conservancy to acquire land in fee for wildlife management purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 8; to acquire land in fee for scientific and natural areas under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 5; for state forest purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 7; and to enhance grasslands, forest, and savanna. A list of proposed acquisitions must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Large corridors and complexes of biologically diverse wildlife habitat typical of the unglaciated region are restored and protected - We will track the acres of priority parcels protected within Conservation Opportunity Areas identified in regional planning. Success within each Conservation Opportunity Area will be determined based on the percentage of area protected..