Grassland ecosystems evolved to depend on periodic disturbances, such as fire and grazing, to maintain their health and stability. Periodic disturbances help control invasive species, add nutrients back into the soil, germinate plant seeds, enhance wildlife habitat, and more. In Minnesota habitat managers have used fire as a disturbance tool for decades but the use of grazing has been much rarer, mostly because of a lack of necessary infrastructure such as fencing.
Since 2000, a diverse group of partners has been collectively working in northwestern Minnesota on one of the largest prairie-wetland restorations in the world. Spanning 22,000 acres and adjacent to an additional 16,000 acres of public and private conservation land, the goal of the Glacial Ridge Project has been to demonstrate whether large-scale habitat restoration is a viable way to reduce flooding and improve water quality. Prior to beginning restoration efforts on the project, a comprehensive baseline hydrologic study of the area was completed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Prior to European settlement more than 18 million acres of prairie covered Minnesota. Today less than 1% of that native prairie remains, and about half of those remaining acres are in private landownership without any formal protection currently in place. Through this appropriation the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will work with private landowners of high quality native prairie sites to protect remaining native prairie using a variety of tools. Approximately 200 acres are expected to be permanently protected through Native Prairie Bank conservation easements.
Minnesota's wetlands provide crucial habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, assist in flood control, and help maintain water quality. However, the state has lost half the wetlands that existed before European settlement and these drained wetlands have not been mapped as part of the National Wetlands Inventory. This appropriation is enabling efforts by Ducks Unlimited to provide a complement to the National Wetlands Inventory by identifying and mapping drained wetlands that have the potential to be restored to provide their various benefits once again.
Over the past 100 years, about half of Minnesota’s original 22 million acres of wetlands have been drained or filled. Some regions of the State have lost more than 90 percent of their original wetlands. The National Wetland Inventory, a program initiated in the 1970s, is an important tool used at all levels of government and by private industry, non-profit organizations, and private landowners for wetland regulation and management, land management and conservation planning, environmental impact assessment, and natural resource inventories.