Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex, Phase 1
This program will protect ~510 acres and restore ~200 acres near Cannon River Headwaters including wetlands, Big Woods forest, and river & shallow lake shoreline to reverse habitat loss, improve watershed function, and provide access
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex Phase I project will acquire ~510 acres of high-quality wetland, remnant Big Woods forest, and Cannon River shoreline habitat for fish, game and wildlife in the Cannon River watershed located within Rice and LeSueur Counties. Protection of this large complex will provide opportunities for public hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation. The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex Phase I project will also restore ~200 acres of the protected lands.
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex effort will address the following problems: degradation and loss of quality and diversity of habitat in the prairie section of the State; degradation of water quality in the Cannon River Watershed; and lack of available public lands for hunting and angling opportunities, especially within an hour’s drive for over half of the state’s population.
Located just south of the Twin Cities metro in an area that has seen development pressure due to the close proximity of the Twin Cities, I-35 and the Upper Cannon Lakes, much of this part of the state has already suffered fragmentation and habitat loss. Historically inhabited by Big Woods, the landscape is now dominated by agricultural fields and, to a lesser extent, development. Agricultural practices and shoreline development are also the major contributors to the impaired status of stretches of the Cannon River and its associated lakes and streams.
This conservation effort is part of a long-term effort that includes acquisition, protection, and restoration of core parcels of land that will contribute to a large complex of restored prairies, grasslands, wetlands, lakeshore, and river shoreline. The complex is encircled by the Upper Cannon River, starting at its headwaters at Shields Lake where it flows west, then as it flows south and east through the towns of Waterville and Morristown, and then as it heads northeast before reaching the city of Faribault.
The initial acquisitions of the overall effort are prioritized toward existing large wetland/upland complexes, rare communities (Big Woods forest, tamarack swamp), shallow lakes, river shoreline, and lands adjacent to existing protected areas. Landowner willingness to sell and the threat of development are also taken into consideration. Restoration work will be focused on the degraded portions of the lands acquired and will include conversion of agricultural fields near wetlands, lakes, rivers and existing protected areas back into native habitat.
Protection and restoration of these significant parcels will provide critical habitat for game species, including migratory waterfowl (mallards, canvasback, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, pintails, lesser scaup), upland birds (dove, turkey, pheasant, and woodcock) white tail deer, and fish (northern pike, black crappies, bluegills, bullheads and walleye). Protection will also provide access for a diversity of recreational experiences including duck, pheasant, turkey and deer hunting as well as river, stream, and lake fishing. Non-game wildlife, including Species in Greatest Conservation Need, likely to benefit from this protection and restoration work includes Bald Eagle, Bell’s Vireo, Cerulean Warbler, Loggerhead Shrike, Sandhill Crane, Red-headed Woodpecker, Greater Yellowlegs, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Blanding’s Turtle, Mudpuppies, and the Giant Floater, a species of freshwater mussel.
Protecting and restoring vegetative cover within basins and the riparian areas of the lakes, rivers, and streams in this focus area will also help protect water quality by reducing surface water runoff and by providing ecological services such as infiltration through natural buffers to our waterways. All wildlife—and humans—will benefit from improved water quality.
All parcels have been scored through the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, Section of Wildlife’s SWAAT scoring tool. Additionally, the DNR’s Southern Region Conservation Focus Area assessment tool ranked the Cannon River area as having the highest level of inter-divisional conservation priority when examined at the landscape level (score= 6).
Work will be completed in phases depending on funding availability. Properties targeted for acquisition and restoration as part of this Phase I request to LSOHC (FY12) include the following:
Dora Lake WMA (new)- tracts 1 and 2 (LeSueur County) This is a large (510-acre) upland-wetland complex with a mosaic of native plant types. It is near the Velishek, Diamond Lake, and the proposed LeTamaraque WMAs and the Delehanty Waterfowl Production Area (WPA). The parcel contains Minnesota County Biological Survey (MCBS)- identified native habitat including a portion of remnant Big Woods, some southern-most occurrence of tamarack swamp in the state, and 1.64 miles of naturally flowing Cannon River, directly upstream from a concentration of rare freshwater mussels. The Cannon is a large river basin that along with its associated uplands accomplishes Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan (MSCPP) habitat goals #1,2,5, and 7 by maintaining & enhancing water quality of a vital river. These tracts also provide an opportunity to retire approximately 200 acres of tilled land in a sensitive water quality area and restore them to wetlands, grassland and eventual guided succession to Big Woods. This tract would provide excellent opportunities for hunting, fishing, and recreating within a reasonable drive of the Twin Cities and many southwestern MN communities.
Le Tamaracque WMA (addition)- tract 28 (Rice County) These 200 acres of rolling terrain with grasslands, forest, and wetlands riparian to the Cannon River are located within a 1000-acre complex of MCBS-identified habitat with high biodiversity significance. Rare communities include Big Woods, some of the southern- most occurrence of Tamarack Swamp in the state, and mixed emergent marsh & prairie. The diversity of marshes and lowland brush is important for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species. The mix of wetland and upland habitats provide nesting areas for waterfowl. Restoration would include minimal tree and shrub plantings to provide nesting cover and minimal wetland restoration. This property also provides easy road access for excellent hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Caron Lake WMA (new) Tracts 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8 (Rice County) These 260 acres of rolling croplands, grasslands, forest, and wetlands include lands riparian to the shallow Caron Lake and an unditched tributary, Devil’s Creek, which is very rare in this area of the state. The property is adjacent to the Caron Lake Aquatic Management Area and contains approximately half mile of frontage on Caron Lake. The area is within a complex of shallow lakes that drain into the Cannon River. Protecting shoreline vegetation on Caron Lake is important for spawning and nursery habitat for northern pike and other native fishes; protecting natural buffers/water quality is critical for walleye downstream in Cedar Lake. This area is known to host both divers and puddle ducks during the fall migration. This is a great production area for turkey, deer, and other forest species, and extensive hunting opportunities would be available with direct and easy access provided by this acquisition. These tracts provide the opportunity to convert approximately 180 acres of farmed land in this sensitive water quality area and restore them to wetlands, grasslands, and either Oak Savannah or Big Woods habitat. Restoration will provide substantial payback for waterfowl and other marsh denizens given the complex of habitats within a biologically meaningful proximity.
Boyd Sartell WMA tract 3 (Rice County) This tract contains diverse marsh habitats and about 14 acres of uplands consisting of oak islands and grassy knolls along the headwaters of the Cannon River. Acquisition will conserve a high quality emergent marsh complex (as characterized by MCBS) associated with General Shields Lake and Little Mud Lake. The acquisition will protect seasonally flooded wetlands and other key habitats for waterfowl and wetland wildlife ranging from sedge wrens and ring-necked ducks to sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans. The area also provides habitat for rare animals and species of conservation need, including colonial waterbirds and Blanding’s turtles. The tract would expand the Boyd Sartell and protect a part of a large, relatively unfragmented habitat area and corridor – a rare entity in south-central Minnesota.
Dora Lake WMA tracts 3 & 4 (LeSueur County) Please see above description for Dora Lake WMA
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex effort is highly supported by the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, the Tri-Lake Sports Club, the Dark House Anglers Southern Chapter, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association South Central Prairieland Bucks Chapter (Le Sueur, Rice, Waseca, and Steele Counties), Waterville Sportsman’s Club, Montgomery Sportsmen’s Club, Minnesota Waterfowl Association Scott- LeSueur Chapter, the Izaak Walton League Owatonna Chapter, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Groups listed have already or will be providing a letter of support. Many will also be pledging privately raised funds to the effort.