Wetland Habitat Protection Program
$1,980,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Minnesota Land Trust to acquire permanent conservation easements in high-priority wetland complexes in the prairie and forest/prairie transition regions. Up to $280,000 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 land acquisitions must be included as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Protected in easement 1,962 acres
Donated easement value
Fourteen conservation easements were completed by this program resulting in the protection of 1,962 acres of high quality wetland and associated upland habitat complexes and 78,596 feet (approximately 15 miles) of shoreland along priority lakes and rivers in west-central Minnesota. This program exceeded by 862 acres the amount proposed for the grant. Total leverage through donated easements by landowners is estimated at $1,209,700, all in excess of that proposed.
Of all of Minnesota’s wildlife habitat types, wetlands and shallow lakes provide the essential backbone for the survival of waterfowl and other important wildlife species. In fact, more than 50% of the amphibians and birds listed in Minnesota’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy as species in greatest conservation need (SGCN) use wetlands during their life cycle. Most of the plans developed to protect Minnesota’s wildlife—including Minnesota’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, the Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan, Minnesota Prairie Plan and the Long Range Duck Recovery Plan—cite the protection and restoration the state’s remaining wetlands as one of the top priorities to achieve the State’s conservation goals. Moreover, these plans cite the use of conservation easements on private lands as one of the primary strategies to protect important wetland and shallow lake habitat.
In this first phase of its Wetland Habitat Protection Program, the Land Trust concentrated its activities toward protecting through conservation easements the important wetland and associated upland habitats within its Edge of the Prairie Critical Landscape. This landscape, which extends from Meeker County northwest to Becker County, is located at the edge of the once vast prairies of western Minnesota as they transition to the woods and forests that dominate the eastern portion of the State. The prairie pothole lakes and associated wetlands within this landscape form the backbone of one of the continent’s most important flyways for migratory waterfowl.
Through this grant, the Land Trust protected 1,962 acres of high priority wetland and associated upland habitats and nearly 15 miles of shoreland along lakes, streams and rivers by acquiring conservation easements from willing landowners. This exceeded the proposed target output by 862 acres. The program targeted projects that helped fill gaps in existing public ownership, contained the highest-quality habitat, and provided the greatest leverage to the state. The Land Trust accepted three fully donated easements, negotiated bargain sale purchases for an additional ten easements, and purchased one at full appraised value. Total leverage from donated value of the easements is placed at $1,209,705, all in excess of that proposed. This value was substantiated in all fourteen easements through appraisals.
The success of the program in producing high levels of donated value was due in part to both the high levels of interest among landowners in participating in the program, and the use of a novel ranking system and market-based approach for purchasing conservation easements. This market-based approach was developed through the Land Trust's work with St. John’s University in the Avon Hills. Under this system, potential parcels for easement purchase were prioritized based on their value to wetland protection, proximity to other protected parcels, MCBS data and other appropriate criteria while allowing targeted landowners to select the price necessary for them to protect their property with an easement. Those properties with the best ratio of environmental benefits to easement cost became the highest priority for acquisition.
Through this grant, the Land Trust has significantly built on its past 15 years of conservation impact in protecting important wetland complexes in this landscape. This work continues through Phase 2 of this program, with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to continue our work in building on the successes of this initial phase, and to secure an additional 750 acres of wetland habitat in west-central Minnesota.