Southeast Minnesota Protection and Restoration Phase IV
This project will protect approximately 1,375 acres and restore and enhance approximately 280 acres of declining habitat for important wildlife species in strategically targeted areas of biodiversity significance in the Blufflands resulting in increased public access and habitat.
The Southeast Blufflands region is as rich in habitat for game and nongame wildlife species as it is in aesthetic beauty. The greater Mississippi River Blufflands have been largely untouched by glaciers, resulting in a diversity and uniqueness of habitats found nowhere else in Minnesota. This diversity of habitats makes Southeast Minnesota critical to the State’s enduring legacy of high quality forests, rivers and prairies. Coldwater trout streams, cliffs, forests, oak savannas and prairies can be found in its scenic bluffs and valleys. Of particular importance are the 86 different native plant community types mapped by the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS), covering nearly 149,670 acres. One hundred eighty-three species of state listed rare plants and animals call the region home. Many of them are concentrated in the 749 sites of biodiversity significance mapped by MBS.
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. However, unlike Northern Minnesota or other regions, only 5% of the region is open to the public and very little is in any kind of protected status. Rapid growth of nearby cities like Rochester and La Crosse are resulting in an increase of 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. 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 a significant impact on water quality. Approximately 7% of grassland in the focus area of this project has been converted to cropland since 2008. To maintain the 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
3) increase public access to these unique habitats in an area of the state with relatively little public land
Overall Scope of Work:
This project has three primary components:
- fee title acquisition of approximately 975 acres of forest and 100 acres of prairie along 2 miles of coldwater trout streams near state forest land, scientific and natural areas, WMAs and a state park
- Restoration and Enhancement of approximately 150 acres of prairie and 130 acres of forest within these protected habitat complexes
- Conservation Easements on approximately 300 acres of forest and prairie
TNC will collaborate with Minnesota DNR, the Minnesota Land Trust (MLT) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL). Priority will be placed on targeted tracts within high biodiversity conservation complexes identified through spatial analysis and selected by project partners as representing the highest quality and most diverse habitat types in the region.
TNC and TPL will coordinate with MN DNR on all potential fee-title acquisitions. TNC and TPL will assist the participating DNR Divisions by conducting all or some of the following activities: initial site reviews, negotiations with sellers, appraisals, environmental reviews and acquisition of fee title. TNC and TPL will transfer fee acquisition properties to the DNR, except where Conservancy ownership is appropriate. Most property acquired with this funding will be owned and managed by the DNR as State Forest, Wildlife Management Area or Scientific and Natural Areas. All land will be open for public hunting and fishing.
Conservation Easement: The Minnesota Land Trust will acquire approximately 300 acres of conservation easements and develop land management plans for them. The Minnesota Land Trust anticipates using a competitive ranking and bidding system similar to its Wetlands Protection Program to prioritize the best projects and secure them at the lowest cost to the State.
Restoration and Enhancement:
Restoration plans and activities will be coordinated with DNR Forestry, Ecological and Water Resources and Wildlife and Nongame leads for specific units. TNC will contract with Conservation Corps Minnesota as much as possible and other local vendors for invasive brush removal and prescribed fire on approximately 150 acres of prairie and oak savanna enhancement 130 acres of forest enhancement on new acquisitions.
Results to Date from previous active appropriations:
Fee Acquisition - Closed and transferred 272 acres to MN DNR as Wildlife Management Area, acquired another 1,330 of prairie, forest, floodplain and 7 miles of trout stream within Conservation Opportunity Areas (96% of goal so far). An additional $2.125 million of private funds was raised to complete large land acquisitions.
Restoration and Enhancement - We have completed brush and tree clearing on 85.6 acres of bluff prairie and oak savanna. We are waiting to close on projects before additional restoration can commence.
Conservation Easements - 331 acres of the proposed 350 acres (95%) have been completed with an additional 110 acres (126%) scheduled for completion
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 2010, Ch. 361, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 10; ML 2011, First Special Session, Ch. 6, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 10; ML 2012, Ch. 264, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 8; ML 2013, Ch. 137, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 8; ML 2014, Ch. 256, 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 federal regulations 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.
$5,000,000 the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with The Nature Conservancy, in cooperation with The Trust for Public Land and Minnesota Land Trust, 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, to acquire land in fee for state forest purposes under Minnesota Statutes, section 86A.05, subdivision 7, to acquire permanent conservation easements, and to restore and enhance prairie, grasslands, forest, and savanna as follows: $1,506,000 to The Nature Conservancy; $2,930,000 to The Trust for Public Land; and $564,000 to Minnesota Land Trust, of which up to $80,000 to Minnesota Land Trust is to establish a monitoring and enforcement fund, as approved in the accomplishment plan and subject to Minnesota Statutes, section 97A.056, subdivision 17. Annual income statements and balance sheets for income and expenses from land acquired in fee with this appropriation and not transferred to state or local government ownership must be submitted to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. A list of proposed land 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..