Wild Rice River Corridor Habitat Restoration
$2,270,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Wild Rice Watershed District to acquire land in fee and permanent conservation easement and to `restore river and related habitat in the Wild Rice River corridor. A list of proposed acquisitions and restorations must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Key core parcels are protected for fish, game and other wildlife - This funding request will target acquisition to Reach C of the corridor. This reach was selected for this part of Phase 1 due to expressed landowner interest and the high percentage of cultivated land within the reach. Of the 3,235 acres within this reach, 2,647 acres (82%) are classified as cultivated crops. The other primary land classifications within this reach are woody wetland (275 acres) and open water (154 acres). While land acquisition will be targeted to Reach C, any other opportunities to acquire and protect lands within the main corridor (A-F) will also be considered..
Natural Resource Conservation Service
This is the first phase of a project to restore 23 channelized river miles to 50 miles of natural stream channel and protect and restore 1,850 acres of floodplain forest, wetland, and grassland habitat along the Wild Rice River.
In the past 100 years, many rivers and streams in the Red River Basin were straightened, ditched, cleared, and snagged with a goal of improving drainage. These activities destroyed hundreds of miles of aquatic habitat and eliminated thousands of acres of riparian forest, wetland and grassland habitat. These habitat losses continue today and have directly resulted in reduced fish and wildlife populations within the channelized reaches of river corridors.
The Wild Rice River is a major Red River tributary, with a drainage area encompassing approximately 1,560 square miles. The Red River Drainage Commission channelized the Lower Wild Rice River in the late 1800’s with further channel "improvement" completed in the 1950's. These projects converted over 50 miles of natural sinuous channel and floodplain corridor into a 23 mile straightened channel. The channelized reach of the Wild Rice River currently provides little functional aquatic or riparian corridor habitat and reduces connectivity between the lower 49 miles of the river to the upstream 130 miles. Agriculture is the primary land use in this area, with only small remnants of natural habitat remaining.
Restoration of this river corridor is the highest rated project on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stream restoration priority list (attached). The Wild Rice Watershed District, in partnership with federal, state, and local agencies has developed a long term plan to restore the Wild Rice River. Acquisition of the corridor is the first phase on this long-term project, which will restore 50 miles of natural channel and over 6,500 acres of riparian forest, wetland, and prairie habitat. The long-term vision for the project includes establishment of a ½-mile wide protected corridor along the river channel, setting back existing ditch banks from the river channel, reconnecting oxbows and construction of natural river habitat, and restoration of perennial forest, wetland, and prairie plant communities. The stream rehabilitation will be based on the principles of natural channel design with an understanding of the hydrology and fluvial geomorphology at the site. The enhanced stream and associated riparian wetlands will improve habitat for Channel Catfish, Lake Sturgeon, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and the other 50+ fish species documented in the Wild Rice River.
In addition to the fish habitat directly provided in the 50 mile restored stream channel, the associated floodplain forest, wetland, and grassland habitat will provide critical wildlife habitat. The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan lists restoration of channelized prairie river segments and cultivation of lands immediately adjacent to streams and ditches as critical challenges. This project addresses both of these concerns. In addition, the upstream portion of the project area lies within the corridor-based conservation area targeted to address connectivity of prairie plants and animals. Currently, 46% of the 6,359 acres within the primary Wild Rice River Corridor is classified as cultivated land (see attached Land Use document). The second most common type of land cover is wooded wetlands; accounting for 35% of the lands within the corridor.
Phase 1 of this project is targeted land acquisition. As part of the long term plan, the river has been divided into Reaches A to F. This funding request will target acquisition to Reach C of the corridor. This reach was selected for Phase 1 due to expressed landowner interest and the high percentage of cultivated land within the reach. Of the 1,425 acres within the primary corridor of this reach, 947 acres (67%) are classified as cultivated crops. The other primary land classifications within this reach are woody wetland (249 acres) and open water (149 acres). While land acquisition will be targeted to Reach C, any other opportunities to acquire and protect lands within the main corridor (A-F) and adjacent lands to the primary corridor in Reach C will also be considered. A total of 1,850 acres of land is targeted for acquisition in this phase of the project (1,425 acres within the primary corridor of Reach C and 425 acres adjacent land and opportunities for acquisition in other reaches).
The Wild Rice River Watershed District will lead this project. Numerous partners will be needed to ensure success. In this land acquisition phase of the project, the local Soil and Water Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service will be critical to success. The largest impediment to acquiring land in this corridor is limiting landowner options for easements. LSOHC funding will strengthen the number of options available for the watershed district to acquire land in this targeted corridor.
In future channel restoration oriented phases of the project, the MNDNR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide technical assistance, funding, and project monitoring to evaluate outcomes. The watershed district will be responsible for final design, engineering, and construction of the project. If funding for this corridor rehabilitation is not secured, the opportunity to rehabilitate this reach of the Wild Rice River Corridor will be lost and it will remain a poor functioning channelized river segment.