St. Croix Watershed Habitat Protection and Restoration Phase I
This program will permanently protect approximately 750 acres of critical habitat through fee-title acquisition and conservation easements, and restore and enhance up to 50 acres of habitat for species of greatest conservation need in strategically targeted protected land assets of biodiversity significance in the St. Croix Watershed. Its goals are to protect habitat, improve conservation connectivity, and provide public access for outdoor recreation opportunities.
Spanning the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the St. Croix River is one of the nation’s first federally designated “Wild and Scenic” Rivers and is home to a diverse abundance of native flora and fauna, rivaling any other location within the greater Upper Mississippi River Basin. The landscape of the St. Croix River contains large swaths of unspoiled ecosystems. It is home to rolling barrens and brushlands containing a plethora of wildlife including threatened populations of sharp-tailed grouse and endangered Karner blue butterflies. The pineries of the north thrive, providing forest products that sustain many communities along with seasonal economic boosts from visitors who come for an array of outdoor activities – from hunting and fishing, to hiking, biking and boating. Although the status of the St. Croix as a Wild and Scenic River comes with federal protections, it applies only to a thin ribbon of land adjacent to the Riverway. Beyond the Riverway boundary, more than 75% of the St. Croix’s forestlands remain in private holdings and the threat of development, fragmentation and conversion to agriculture is substantial. Through the “My St. Croix Woods” program, the St. Croix River Association (SCRA) is growing the demand for forest stewardship and protection by increasing collaboration with partners. Building upon years of momentum, we seek to increase permanent protection options to landowners that result in the conservation of well connected, functional forests and rivers that sustain and enhance native species. In partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust (MLT) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL), we seek to protect large intact forest patches that are managed for complexity; sustain riparian forests that are managed for connectivity; and restore lands that are important to the 128 listed Species in Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) that are known to occur within this landscape.TPL will protect approximately 415 acres in fee focusing on lands that have been identified as high priority in statewide and regional plans as immediate opportunities for protection. TPL will convey lands to the DNR except when LGU ownership is appropriate. TPL will also acquire trout stream easements along section of Lawrence Creek and Sand Creek which are high priorities for DNR Fisheries in this watershed. Trout stream easements will be conveyed to MN DNR who will hold them in perpetuity. MLT will acquire approximately 310 acres of conservation easements and develop restoration and habitat management plans for eased acres. Projects within targeted priority areas will be identified through a competitive RFP process and subsequently ranked based on ecological value and cost, prioritizing the best projects and securing them at the lowest cost to the state. MLT will also restore and enhance 50 acres of habitat on existing and new easements. Ecological restoration enhancement management plans will be developed in coordination with landowners and hired subcontractors. MLT will negotiate and close all conservation easements, and serve as project manager for all R/E projects.The St. Croix River Association will provide program administration, and landowner outreach and engagement in priority areas.
$3,751,000 the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for agreements as follows: (1) $2,209,000 to The Trust for Public Land to acquire land in fee and to acquire permanent conservation stream easements in the St. Croix River watershed using the payment method prescribed in Minnesota Statutes, section 84.0272, subdivision 2; (2) $1,377,000 to Minnesota Land Trust to acquire permanent conservation easements and to restore and enhance natural habitat systems in the St. Croix River watershed. Of this amount, up to $168,000 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; and (3) $165,000 to the St. Croix River Association to coordinate and administer the program under this paragraph. A list of proposed land acquisitions and permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Forestlands are protected from development and fragmentation - Forestland protection from development and fragmentation will be measured based on the acreage of land protected by fee acquisition and permanent conservation easements obtained through this program. .A network of natural land and riparian habitats will connect corridors for wildlife and species in greatest conservation need - With a priority on trout streams and adjacency to already protected lands, program success will be measured based on the acres of land protected via fee acquisition and permanent conservation easements adjacent to protected lands, as well as miles of riparian and trout stream habitat protected. .