Targeted RIM Easement & Acquisition to the Parcel Level Pine & Leech Watersheds Phase II
Hubbard, Crow Wing, and Cass County Land Departments and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) will partner to acquire 300 acres (public access) and place easements on 240 acres of private high-quality forest, wetlands, and shoreline in the Northern Forest Ecological Section. This project is integrating county land management goals and parcel selection into the 75 percent protection watershed goal (Phase 1 Watershed Grant). Development trends pose a serious threat to, wild rice, Golden-winged Warbler, Northern Long-eared Bat, Blanding Turtle, and over 107 unique, rare, endangered, and threated species that live in uplands, lowlands, and mature forest of these counties.
This project will focus on Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) conservation easements and acquisitions adjacent to county land on targeted private forest and wetlands within the Leech Lake River and Pine River Watersheds. These watersheds contain:
-1,250 lakes, which covers 354 square miles
-88 lakes with High to Highest Outstanding Biological Significance (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources MN DNR)
-92 wild rice lakes and over 29 cisco lakes
-Property values surrounding these high-quality lakes and streams are worth over 10 billion dollars
-262,300 acres of county managed land that is open to the public for hunting and fishing
In 2010, Peter Jacobson, MN DNR, published cisco lakes research and prioritized 50 cisco lakes as a high priority to protect. The MN DNR Fisheries identified a strong correlation between lake water quality that sustains fish populations and maintaining 75 percent forest cover in a specific watershed.
2018- 2019, the Leech Lake River and Pine River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plans pinpointed private land easements and acquisitions as a key component to these watersheds thriving. Private land adjacent to county forest land and waterbodies are prime targets for: forest fragmentation, first and second-tier development, damaged aquatic habitat, and an increase in buildings, homes, and roads.
In 2019, watershed partners took the protection framework methodology called RAQ (Riparian, Adjacent, Quality) and applied RAQ to the RIM easement program to filter 320,000 acres down to 2,280 acres within the Leech Lake River and Pine River Watersheds.
This project will build off the 2020 Lessard Sam's Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) Grant and will meld the county land prioritization process for acquisition with the RAQ scoring to provide more opportunity for the County and SWCD to reach 75 percent watershed protection goal.
County land management plans prioritize parcels to consolidate of county ownership to enhance management, increase wildlife habitat protection, and increase public access for recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing. These parcels have been integrated into the Leech Lake River and Pine River watershed RAQ framework. This project will dovetail County Land Department acquisition of 300 acres with Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) RIM Easements of 240 acres. This project will be successful because of the parcel scoring system used to integrate upland and aquatic habitat protection, a clear set goal for each sub-watershed of 75 percent protection, methodology to track progress, well-trained staff that are excellent at communication with the landowner, and lessons learned from past easement programs.
The Pine River and Leech Lake River Watersheds include some of the best lakes and fisheries within the lower 48 States. The Tourism industry of Hubbard, Cass, and Crow Wing Counties generates over $399 million in gross sales per year (Minnesota Explore 2018). Private lands within those watersheds need prioritized protection strategies to ensure that the habitat stays intact and maintain wildlife corridors, gives Minnesotans additional opportunities for fishing and hunting, and protects the local tourism economy and tax base of Leech Lake River and Pine River Watersheds.
$1,609,000 the first year is to acquire and restore land in fee and permanent conservation easements of high-quality forest, wetland, and shoreline habitat. Of this amount, $1,065,000 is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District and $544,000 is to the Board of Water and Soil Resources. Up to $26,000 of the total amount 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 permanent conservation easements must be included as part of the final report.
Forestlands are protected from development and fragmentation - The outcomes will be measured by:
Number of acres protected for easements and acquisitions
Miles of Shoreline protected
percent of land protected increased in a specific subwatershed correlating to the comprehensive watershed management plans for Leech Lake River and Pine River.
https://www.crowwing.us/DocumentCenter/View/17315/Pine-River-One-Waters… pages 144-146