Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex, Phase 2
Protect +/- 428 and restore +/- 175 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 II project will acquire approximately 428 and restore approximately 175 acres of high-quality wetland, remnant Big Woods forest, and Cannon River- and shallow lake- 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 II 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 multi-year 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 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 (approximately 175 acres) and will include restoration of agricultural fields near wetlands, lakes, rivers and existing protected areas to 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.
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 II request to LSOHC (FY13) include the following:
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.
Lake WMA (new)- tracts 4, 5, 6, 7, and 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. Due to limited funding, protection will be targeted toward a portion of this property. 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 restore some farmed land in this sensitive water quality area 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.
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex effort is 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.
Acquisition of high quality habitat and restoration of degraded habitat within the Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex furthers the goals and strategies of numerous resource management plans including:
Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan (MSCPP)
L-SOHC Prairie Section Vision
Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) Strategic Plan 2009-2012
Minnesota Forest Resources Council (MFRC) and Minnesota Forest Resources Partnership’s (MFRP) Recommended 25-year LSOHC Forest Priorities Vision: Prairie Section
MN DNR Long Range Duck Recovery Plan
MN DNR Long Range Plan for the Ring-Necked Pheasant
Rice County Water Resource Management Plan
Le Sueur County Local Water Management Plan 2006-2015
DNR’s AMA and WMA Acquisition Plans
The MSCPP states “habitat issues are arguably the most important issues facing the conservation and preservation of natural resources throughout Minnesota” (p 31). The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex project addresses multiple habitat issues by furthering the listed Habitat Recommendations. The project will “restore ecoregion-appropriate, landscape-scale complexes of habitat centered on concentrations of existing remnant habitats with a broader goal of developing/maintaining conservation corridors between existing and restored habitats” (p 66). It will “ critical shorelands of streams and lakes”, by focusing on “shoreline buffers…[which] protect water quality by trapping, filtering and impeding runoff laden with nutrients, sediments and other pollutants” (p 67). The project will also “improve connectivity and access to outdoor recreation” (p 74), by protecting “contiguous land areas suitable for: natural resource–based outdoor recreation; shorelands; threatened habitat areas with opportunities to improve connectivity of underserved areas; and rapidly growing areas or areas where land use changes may limit future outdoor recreation opportunities” (p 76). The project also addresses the habitat recommendation to “restore land, wetlands and wetland-associated watersheds” which is “especially imperative in the prairie and prairie-forest transition zones of the state” (p 80).
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex project fits nearly all of the Priority Actions listed in the L-SOHC Prairie Section Vision. The project will “protect, enhance, or restore existing wetland/upland complexes, or convert agricultural lands to new wetland/upland habitat complexes” and “protect, enhance and restore remnant native prairie, Big Woods forests and oak savannah”. By protecting and restoring lands containing large habitat complexes and those adjacent to and near existing AMA’s, WMA’s, and WPA’s, the project will convert agricultural land to wetland/upland to protect, enhance, or restore existing habitat complexes, and restore or enhance habitat on public lands, while providing fantastic opportunities for public recreation proximate to the Twin Cities urban area and outstate MN. Protecting and restoring the wetlands, uplands and riparian areas especially located around Caron Lake meet the priority actions to “protect, restore and enhance shallow lakes” and “protect, enhance and restore migratory habitat for waterfowl and related species, so as to increase migratory and breeding success”.
The CRWP Strategic Plan lists their mission and the vision for the Cannon River Headwaters. This project furthers their vision of a “healthy watershed with clean water that is fishable, swimmable, and drinkable” and contributes to their mission of “protecting and improving the water quality and natural systems of the Cannon River watershed” (p 2).
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex project furthers the vision and goals of the MFRC and MFRP’s Recommendations for the Prairie Section of the state: the area of Rice and Le Sueur County included in this effort is specifically shown in their recommendation as a “Forest and Wildlife Habitat Priority Area” (Big Woods).
The MN DNR Long Range Duck Recovery Plan states “Minnesota has lost more than 90% of its prairie wetlands” (p 8). The project employs the primary breeding strategy of the plan: “to [restore and protect] two million additional acres (30% wetland, 70% grassland) of habitat in wetland/grassland habitat complexes,” especially in seasonal basins and including shallow lakes (p 3). The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex project also furthers the recreation strategy by “improving the quantity and quality of duck hunting and viewing opportunities” (p 5).
The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex effort helps accomplish MN DNR’s Long Range Plan for the Ring-Necked Pheasant by restoring grassland habitat as well as protecting shrub-scrub wetlands and other dense woody habitat in close proximity: “Because most pheasants move <2 miles between summer and winter range, both reproductive habitat and at least 1 winter area must be available within a 9-square mile landscape to sustain a population over the long term” (p 6).
The project also meets the following overall water resource management goals from the Rice County Water Resource Management Plan: “Protect, preserve, and manage natural surface and groundwater storage systems”, “prevent erosion of soil into surface water systems”, and “protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat and water recreational facilities” (iii). The plan also lists wetlands as one of the County’s priority issues. The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex project meets the management goal to “restore pre-settlement wetlands that provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat, that act as recharge areas for groundwater to filter pollutants” (p vi)
The LeSueur County Local Water Management Plan lists their priority concerns and goals to address the concerns. The Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex project will create: “protected, restored and improved surface water quality in lakes, rivers and streams” and “minimized impacts from runoff of development areas and agricultural land that alter surface water hydrology” by addressing Objective 7: “Increase the number of wetland restoration acreage in the county” (p 3).
Lastly, the effort helps fulfill the strategies of the DNR’s AMA and WMA acquisition plans: “[lake and warm water stream and river acquisitions] should be concentrated in the north central lakes and transition area between the prairie/grassland and forested portions of the state where development and land use pressures, habitat fragmentation, and increased demand for water-based outdoor recreation will continue to expand” (the Cannon River Headwaters Habitat Complex is located in the latter for purposes of AMA; p 20). The effort follows guidance in the WMA plan that “emphasis should be placed on habitat in larger complexes of grassland/wetland…including core wintering areas for resident wildlife species, and needed nesting habitat” (p 11).
All parcels have been scored through DNR Division of Wildlife’s scientific SWAAT WMA scoring tool and have been ranked as priority acquisitions with a score of 12 or above. 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).