Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition , Phase 4
This appropriation allowed the permanent protection of 769 acres in western Minnesota. These properties included 287 acres of remnant native prairie, 112 acres of associated wetland complexes, and 19,500' of stream front. For this phase, we committed to protecting 500 acres with a minimum of 250 being native prairie. Both targets were exceeded – 153% of total acres and 115% of native prairie acres. The lands and easements purchased with this funding by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have been transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and are now units of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
The Council’s 25-Year Framework identifies protecting Minnesota’s remaining native prairies as a critical priority. The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan (Prairie Plan) describes the importance of preserving the cores/corridors/complexes where there are the greatest opportunities for the long-term conservation of these prairies. The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition (NTP NWR) program shares these goals. This program is a cooperative, multi-year effort of The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve and protect our remaining prairies and the surrounding habitat that buffer them. With Outdoor Heritage Fund support, this partnership is working together to advance these goals.
This program’s top criterion for parcel prioritization is the presence of remnant native prairie. The criteria also ask: 1) Is the project located in an existing complex of habitat and protected lands? and 2) Are rare species and/or communities present? As a result, the parcels protected often include other valuable native habitat. In addition to native prairie, the five acquired properties included 112 acres of wetlands, 19,500' of stream front, and 140-acres of high-quality riparian forest. All of the lands protected were in the priority areas identified in the Prairie Plan.
Data from the Minnesota Biological Survey confirms the conservation value of the lands protected. 329 acres were identified as having significant biodiversity significance, with 2/3 of these ranked as having high or outstanding biodiversity.
The appropriation language and original accomplishment plan for this phase permitted the purchase of either fee title properties or permanent habitat easements. The final balance of fee and easement work depended on the best conservation opportunities available. Five projects were completed with funding from this phase. These included 76 acres of fee title acquisition and 693 acres of permanent conservation easements. Across multiple phases, the balance between fee and easement acquisition varies. The ML 2010 phase funded more fee acres. ML 2011 and 2012 purchased more easements. The following phase, ML 2014, is on track do significantly more fee than easement work.
This program also includes a relatively small restoration/enhancement component. The prioritization criteria favor parcels that are in good condition. Because of the nature of parcel ownership, however, some properties will likely include small areas of converted or degraded lands needing grassland or wetland restoration/enhancement. This work is completed where needed to get these properties into a sustainable condition for future management. Restoration/enhancement activity with this round of funding included 6.3 acres of grassland restoration, 46.6 acres of tree and/or dense vegetation removal, and 426.2 acres of scattered vegetation removal. These acres are not reported as a separate outcome in the Output Tables in order to avoid any possible double-counting.
Two things to note when reviewing the attached Budget Spreadsheet and Output Tables:
1) The Request column in the Budget and Cash Leverage Table is out of date. The figures shown are from the originally approved accomplishment plan. It does not reflect any later amendments. This discrepancy resulted from the shift from paper to online reporting during this phase.
2) The Output Tables tab shows all of the original Acres and Funding on the Protect in Fee W/O State PILT Liability. The ‘either/or’ language in the original, paper-based accomplishment plans didn’t carry over when the plan was migrated to the online system. The new system didn’t allow ‘or’ situations. The acres all appear under Protect in Fee w/o PILT in the attached Output Tables.