Shallow Lake Shoreland Protection: Wild Rice Lakes
This pilot program protected 1,210 acres of wild rice lake shoreland habitat in the Northern Forest Section by securing 14 permanent RIM conservation easements and four fee-title acquisitions, surpassing our goal of 700 acres, and doing so $250,202 under budget.
This initial Phase 1 program was intended to protect sensitive wild rice lake shorelands and prevent shoreline development that could degrade wild rice lake ecology. The keystone feature of this initial pilot program was the launch a new state RIM easement program for wild rice lake shoreland properties intended to buffer and protect sensitive wild rice lake shorelines and limit development. Also, this initial program featured a unique partnership among local, county, state and federal agencies all working together to protect key parcels through a combination of conservation easements and fee-title land acquisitions.
The Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR) worked closely with northeastern Minnesota County Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) to develop and implement the new RIM conservation easement program for wild rice lakes, which secured 14 RIM easements and protected 821 acres. Due to several landowners canceling their RIM easement applications after the appropriation adjustment availability date, $98,044 of easement acquisition funding, $2,000 of easement stewardship funding, and $112 of personnel money was unspent by BWSR at the end of the project, and BWSR returned $100,156 to the OHF. However, this new RIM easement program for wild rice lakes was successfully launched and is now fully programmatic and ongoing, and has received additional OHF funding since this initial pilot phase.
DU also attempted to purchase conservation easements on two parcels of land on wild rice lakes too, but those efforts did not succeed due to landowner unwillingness to continue with the DU easement process. Therefore, DU amended the grant budget to move easement grant funds to fee-title land purchase, and successfully appraised and purchased a 28-acre parcel of land on Moose Lake in St. Louis County in fee-title. This key parcel was then transferred it to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in the Superior National Forest and long-term management and public outdoor recreational use. DU also coordinated this pilot program and submitted all grant status reports. DU spent $143,262 but left $147,738 unspent to be returned to the OHF.
Minnesota DNR successfully purchased a key 286-acre parcel in fee-title on Yaeger Lake in Wadena County for inclusion in the Yaeger state Wildlife Management Area (WMA). DNR also subawarded OHF grant funds to Cass County to purchase two parcels of 35 acres on Lake George and 40 acres on Lower Hand Lake that were for sale and were appropriate additions to county land holdings in the area and help consolidate Cass County forest management and land ownership. Together, DNR and Cass County purchased 361 acres in fee-title, spent $497,691, and turned back $2,309 to the OHF.
Overall, 14 RIM easements were secured that protect 821 acres, and four key parcels of land for sale totaling 389 acres were purchased in fee-title where RIM easements were not of interest to private landowners, for a total of 1,209 acres protected including about four miles of shoreline protected through this initial pilot grant to protect wild rice lake shoreland. This 1,210-acre land protection achievement far surpasses our goal of 700 acres, and was accomplished well-under under budget. Collectively, partners spent $1,640,798 of the $1,891,000 appropriated for this initial phase of the program, and turned back $250,202 to the OHF.
This new wild rice lake protection partnership program continues today, with the Minnesota BWSR working closely with SWCDs to assist private landowners and implement additional RIM easements on wild rice lakes with subsequent OHF grants and phases of this initial program. Partners also routinely discuss other land protection needs around wild rice lakes with Minnesota DNR field staff, and work together to ensure efforts are make to purchase key tracts on important wild rice lakes when they come up for sale and are appropriate for public land ownership and management.