Living Shallow Lakes and Wetlands Initiative, Phase 2
Phase 2 of Ducks Unlimited's ongoing engineering program restored and enhanced shallow lakes and wetlands by installing water level control structures to improve aquatic plant abundance and water clarity in partnership with the Minnesota DNR and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Ducks Unlimited engineered and completed 20 projects, including 3 wetland restorations and 17 shallow lake enhancements. In all, this work restored 150 wetland acres and enhanced 2,936 shallow lake acres for a total of 3,086 wetland acres completed, surpassing our goals and spending all the state funds appropriated while providing $839,300 in non-state funding as leverage, well-beyond our proposal.
This grant was Phase 2 of Ducks Unlimited's ongoing engineering program restored and enhanced shallow lakes and wetlands by installing water level control structures to improve aquatic plant abundance and water clarity in partnership with the Minnesota DNR and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Ducks Unlimited engineered and successfully completed 20 wetland projects through this appropriation, including 3 wetland restorations and 17 shallow lake enhancements. In all, this work restored 150 wetland acres and enhanced 2,936 shallow lake acres for a total of 3,086 wetland acres completed, surpassing our goals and spending all the state funds appropriated while providing $839,300 in non-state funding as leverage, well-beyond the goals in our proposal and accomplishment plan.
Minnesota has lost approximately 90% of our prairie wetlands, and many wetlands in other ecoregions of the state, to drainage. The shallow lakes and large marshes that remain now serve as the core of Minnesota’s remaining waterfowl habitat complexes, and are often those basins that were too deep to drain. These remaining wetlands now receive excessive water and nutrient runoff from a highly altered and intensively drained landscape, and are easily accessed by invasive fish such as common carp. As a result, many basins are now turbid and degraded due to high, stable water levels that allow carp and other invasive fish to proliferate and aquatic ecology to stagnate. The results is a lack of aquatic plants and invertebrates required to sustain migrating and breeding waterfowl, especially those species that rely on aquatic foods exclusively such as diving ducks.
As a result, ducks migrating through Minnesota on their way north to breed in spring find sparse aquatic food resources, much to their detriment further north, and also again in the fall when their passage through Minnesota appears briefer each year. Those waterfowl that remain here to breed find poor brood-rearing habitat, as shallow lakes and marshes have a paucity of high quality wetland habitat with abundant aquatic plants and invertebrate food resources on which young ducks rely. These factors have contributed to a decline in Minnesota’s diverse waterfowl resources and, unfortunately, a decline in Minnesota’s rich waterfowling traditions.
To remedy this situation, Ducks Unlimited’s “Living Lakes Initiative” assists the Minnesota DNR, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and other conservation partners to enhance and restore Minnesota’s shallow lakes and wetlands. This grant supported Phase 2 of Ducks Unlimited's biological and engineering work to design and construct water control structures and fish barriers. DU biologists worked closely with Minnesota DNR Shallow Lakes Program biologists to assess wetland conditions and identify possible management solutions. DU biologists and engineers surveyed, designed, and constructed the water control infrastructure necessary for state and federal agency staff to actively manage water levels. Funding in this request also supported ongoing shallow lake technical assistance from DU biologists and engineers to assess, survey, and design future projects for implementation under future OHF appropriations.
Most enhancement work occured in the Prairie Region by design, as that is where waterfowl are in most need of habitat improvements. Structures are used by agency managers to simulate natural temporary drought cycles in shallow lakes and wetlands that rejuvenate the aquatic ecological process that produces abundant aquatic plants and invertebrates. These structures last for 30 or more years and are generally use by agency staff every 5-7 years to conduct periodic temporary draw-downs that are key to enhancing and maintaining highly productive wetlands. Importantly, DU also restored smaller wetlands on public and other protected land near shallow lakes. Shallow lakes were selected for enhancement by DNR and FWS managers, and generally enjoy strong support from the public for improvement. The Minnesota DNR holds public meetings to share information on the current condition and management plan for shallow lakes designated for wildlife management purposes.
Every statewide conservation plan recognizes the need for improving and protecting Minnesota’s shallow lakes and associated wetlands for optimal wildlife habitat. The Minnesota DNR’s Duck Recovery Plan is the most specific, calling for the active management of 1,800 shallow lakes and adding 64,000 restored wetlands to Minnesota’s landscape. DU’s Living Lakes Initiative supports this plan through a goal of improving 300 Minnesota shallow lakes in 10 years. Shallow lakes and wetlands are identified as critical habitat for several “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” listed in Minnesota’s “Tomorrow’s Habitat for the Wild & Rare: An Action Plan for Minnesota Wildlife”, including lesser scaup, northern pintail, and trumpeter swan.
Importantly, Ducks Unlimited’s Living Lakes Initiative directly address Minnesota’s Statewide Conservation & Preservation Plan Habitat Recommendations #4 and #5 on pages 78 and 80, respectively, which calls for the restoration and protection of shallow lakes (page 78) and the restoration of land, wetlands, and watersheds (page 80). This program addresses the LSOHC priorities of wetland and shallow lake restoration and enhancement in the Prairie and Forest-Prairie Transition sections. Finally, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan’s Prairie Pothole Joint Venture prioritizes the restoration and management of wetlands and shallow lakes through goals and objectives for improved brood-rearing and migration habitat for ducks. Many of the shallow lakes and wetlands prioritized for enhancement by DU are located within wetland habitat complexes identified by the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Strategic Habitat Conservation model and are high priority basins for both Service and Minnesota DNR field managers. DU shallow lake and wetland enhancement work is performed in close coordination and collaboration with either the Minnesota DNR or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and these agencies assume all future management and operation responsibilities for water control structures designed and installed by DU.