Wild Rice Shoreland Protection Program - Phase IV

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Outdoor Heritage Fund
Recipient Type
State Government
In Progress
Start Date
July 2015
End Date
June 2020
Activity Type
Land Acquisition
Counties Affected
Legal Citation / Subdivision
ML 2015, First Sp. Session, Ch. 2, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 4(c )
Appropriation Language

$131,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for the acquisition of land in fee and $1,469,000 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 $90,000 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.

2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Direct expenses
Administration costs
Number of full time equivalents funded
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Healthy populations of endangered, threatened, and special concern species as well as more common species - Miles of wild rice shoreland permanently protected and acres of permanently protected wild rice shoreland. .Improved aquatic habitat vegetation - Miles of wild rice shoreland permanently protected and acres of permanently protected wild rice shoreland. .

Project Overview

This Phase IV continuation of the Wild Rice Shoreland Protection project will acquire approximately 900 acres of permanent easements (~18) and 13 acres in fee title translating to approximately 6 miles of wild rice shoreland habitat in the Northern Forest

About the Issue

Wild rice is officially the “State Grain” of Minnesota (MN Statute - 1.148). Minnesota remains the epicenter of this plant’s natural range supporting more habitat than any other state in the U.S. This Phase IV project will continue critical habitat protection, helping to keep this legacy intact.  

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.

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, drainage, flow alteration, boat traffic and competition from introduced aquatic invasive species. Today, the heart of the state's 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 nearly 80% of harvesting trips for licensed harvesters. Becker, Beltrami and Clearwater SWCDs have expressed interest in being included in Phase IV. If funding levels allow, the project will be expanded to include them.

This wild rice shoreland complex exists primarily in the state's Northern Forest Section and remains intact with good water quality, but it is subject to intense development pressure that, if allowed, will degrade the resource. Recent well-documented population and development trends pose a serious threat to wild rice habitat in the Northern Forest Section. This population and development boom has reduced the availability of developable shoreline on recreational lakes, resulting in shallow lakes, rivers, and shallow bays containing wild rice being increasingly targeted for shoreline development.

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. Activity from developed shoreline also disturbs migrating waterfowl as they seek to rebuild reserves.

Beyond public ownership, current shoreline protection on wild rice shoreland is limited to county shoreland ordinances, and limited conservation efforts by non-governmental organizations. Shoreland ordinances do not prevent wild rice habitat fragmentation. Further, even the most stringent ordinances still allow for some subdivision and development, which is detrimental to the wild rice shoreland complex.

Voluntary, incentive-based conservation protection options for shoreland landowners are few. Unlike the prairie portion of the state where state funded 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, lower land values allow conservation dollars to stretch further while also leveraging existing public lands. Most public waters offer some form of public access. This proposal will continue 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 extremely successful effort is poised to exceed project goals with over eight miles of important shoreland habitat proposed for permanent protection from development. The supply of offered quality easements exceeded available funds.  Building on Phase I, Phase II easements will protect another 1,240 acres. Phase III dollars are available to begin work on July 1, 2014. To-date, 22 easements totaling over $1.23M have been funded and acquisitions are nearing completion.  Phase II partner Minnesota DNR completed their fee-title goal.  

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) will continue to offer permanent shoreland protection on the shallow lakes, rivers and shallow bays producing wild rice. The BWSR’s Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program will acquire approximately 900 acres through permanent conservation easements and DNR Wildlife will acquire approximately 13 acres through fee-title acquisition.

Emphasis for Phase IV will again be placed on securing permanent conservation easements rather than fee-title acquisition, which will keep land in private ownership and on local and county tax rolls. Fee-title acquisition will be offered in cases where land is for sale and easements are not an option, and where a tract is a desirable addition to adjacent public land.  Fee-title acquisitions will provide public access. 

Through the local SWCD offices, BWSR will purchase RIM easements using rates set by BWSR.  Tracts will be 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 will be acquired through a sign-up process similar to BWSR’s other easement programs. SWCD generated landowner applications will be reviewed and parcels ranked by the project committee with guidance provided by the "Wild Rice Shoreland Protection Criteria Sheet" (attached).  Shoreland protection for wild rice lakes and rivers enjoys widespread support from tribal interests, SWCDs, and other habitat conservation partners.

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
Street Address
1601 Minnesota Drive
Zip Code
(218) 828-2598