Wild Rice Shoreland Protection Phase III
$198,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for acquisition of land in fee and $862,000 is to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to acquire permanent conservation easements on wild rice lake shoreland habitat for native wild rice bed protection. Of this amount, up to $70,000 to the Board of Water and Soil Resources 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 fee land acquisitions must be included as part of the required accomplishment plan by the Department of Natural Resources and a list of permanent conservation easements must be provided as part of the final report by the Board of Water and Soil Resources.
The outcomes for this program are measured by acres and shoreline of wild rice lakes protected from development. The goal of Phase III was to protect 500 acres in RIM easements and 180 acres in fee-title. The outcomes exceeded our goal by purchasing 14 RIM easements which protected 600 acres and 285 acres of fee title land for the Yaeger Lake WMA. These parcels will protect water quality, wild rice stands and critical wildlife habitat.
This Phase III continuation of the Wild Rice Shoreland Protection project acquired 98 acres for Yaeger Lake Wildlife Management Area (total acquisition was 285 acres but a portion was funded with other LSOHC money, only the portion funded with this grant is reported here) and 14 RIM easements protecting 600 acres for a total of 698 acres of wild rice shoreland habitat in the Northern Forest Section. This exceeded this Phases overall goal by acres for RIM.
Wild rice shoreland encompasses a complex of shallow lakes, rivers, and shallow bays of deeper lakes that support rice and provide some of the most important habitat for wetland-dependent wildlife species in Minnesota. Wild rice habitat is especially important to Minnesota’s migrating and breeding waterfowl and provides Minnesotans with unique recreation opportunities: hunting waterfowl and harvesting the rice itself for food. Wild rice is also spiritually important to Native Americans and is a part of Minnesota’s rich natural and cultural heritage.
Historically, wild rice occurred throughout Minnesota and extended into northern Iowa. Wild rice has since been extirpated from most of its southern range due to human impacts including changes to water quality and chemistry, sedimentation, landscape drainage, flow alteration, boat traffic and competition from introduced aquatic invasive species. Today, the heart of the states wild rice acreage falls within this project work area comprised of eight counties Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, St. Louis, and Wadena. These counties also account for 70% of harvesting trips for state licensed harvesters.
Shallow lakes and rivers in the forest are very susceptible to the impacts of shoreline development. The alteration of shoreline vegetation, construction of impervious surfaces, placement of in-lake structures, and increased boat and water based recreation can result in a reduction in emergent and floating plant abundance; mixing of bottom sediments, increased nutrient loading (including substantial changes in phosphorous) and shoreline erosion. Further, expectations of new shoreline homeowners may conflict with wildlife management strategies designed to maximize wild rice production and improve waterfowl habitat. The impact of development is cumulative, and over time, such changes can severely reduce wild rice production, water quality and waterfowl use of these important water bodies.
Beyond public ownership, current shoreline protection on wild rice shoreland is limited to county shoreland ordinances and zoning, and limited conservation efforts by non-governmental organizations. Variances to land use rules aimed at preserving the state’s most valuable resource, our lakes and rivers, are at times allowed. Further, even the most stringent shoreland ordinances still allow for some subdivision and development, which is detrimental to the wild rice shoreland complex.
Voluntary, incentive-based conservation protection program options for shoreland landowners are few. Unlike the prairie portion of the state where agency-backed easement options exist for conservation-minded landowners, private land protection options are limited for wild rice shoreland in the forest due to funding constraints. Further, many easement programs are targeted for restoration and not protection. In the northern forest, there is much less need for restoration, thus this Phase III proposal was again focused on habitat protection. This proposal continued to fill a need for shoreland protection on key water bodies supporting wild rice in the Northern Forest Section.
Phase I of this project began with 2012 Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) funding by providing wild rice lake shoreline landowners with expanded protection options through permanent shoreland conservation easements and, where needed, fee-title acquisition. This successful effort exceeded project goals with 1,200 acres of important shoreland habitat proposed for permanent protection from development including 286 acres of new Wildlife Management Areas.
Phases II was approved in MN Laws 2013 and protected another 1,173 acres through permanent easements.
Utilizing permanent conservation easements and fee-title acquisitions, the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – Section of Wildlife (DNR Wildlife), and the eight local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) offerd permanent shoreland protection on shallow lakes, rivers and shallow bays producing wild rice. The BWSR’s Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program acquired 600 acres through permanent conservation easements and DNR Wildlife acquired 285 acres through fee-title acquisition.
Through the local SWCD offices, BWSR purchased RIM easements using rates set by BWSR. Tracts were selected based on the degree to which they help permanently protect all the land around a given wild rice water body. The BWSR RIM easements were acquired through a sign-up process similar to BWSR’s other easement programs. SWCD generated landowner applications were reviewed and parcels ranked by the project committee with guidance provided by the "Wild Rice Shoreland Protection Criteria Sheet". Fee-title acquisition was used where land was suitable for public use Fee-title acquisitions provide public access. Shoreland protection for wild rice lakes and rivers enjoys widespread support from tribal interests, SWCDs, and other habitat conservation partners.