Minnesota Department of Natural Resources header

LEGACY AMENDMENT NEWS PACKET                                                           Oct. 30, 2013
All news releases are available in the DNR’s website newsroom at www.mndnr.gov/news.
Follow the DNR on Twitter @mndnr.

IN THIS ISSUE – OUTDOOR HERITAGE FUND
Legacy dollars leaving lasting legacy in northern forest
DNR small grants program increasing, improving wildlife habitat   
Citizen conservationists leaving own legacy through Legacy funding
Roving crews enhance habitat quality on existing public grasslands
Citizen conservationist plays key role in expansion of unique WMA

NOTE Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment on Nov. 4, 2008, by voting to increase the state’s sales tax. Tax dollars are dedicated to four funds: Outdoor Heritage Fund, Clean Water Fund, Parks and Trails Fund, and Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. On the fifth anniversary of the Legacy Amendment vote, the Department of Natural Resources is issuing three news release packets describing projects supported by the natural resources funds. This is the first of three news packets that will be issued today. The releases in this packet describe Outdoor Heritage Fund projects.

DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Legacy dollars leaving lasting legacy in northern forest
Easement and acquisition effort has protected large tracts of intact forest   

When Minnesotans behold the vast forests of the north, they look much as they did before voters passed the Legacy Amendment to the state constitution in 2008.

Yet the difference is huge and reassuring for recreational users and resource managers who view these lands by looking at property ownership maps.

“What you don’t see from the road is the visionary public policy that has protected more than 210,000 acres of forest in the name of public recreation, sound fish and wildlife management and sustainable supplies of timber for the wood products industry,” said Forrest Boe, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forestry Division director. “That amount of protection would not have happened without the Legacy Amendment.”

It was five years ago that citizens voted to impose a sales tax of three-eighths of 1 percent on themselves for 25 years. Since 2009, when tax revenues began to flow, the Legacy Amendment has generated more than a billion dollars for clean water, parks and trails, habitat conservation and Minnesota’s arts and cultural heritage. Of that amount, $200-plus million has been appropriated to the DNR for its direct use. And of that amount, $41.4 million was allocated to a pioneering project called Minnesota’s Forests for the Future.     

“Legacy funds were used to protect 207,441 acres of forest with permanent conservation easements,” Boe said. “Another 2,746 acres were protected by fee acquisition. At an average protection cost of $254 per acre, there was strong support in the hunting, timber industry, legislative and natural resource communities that this was a good investment in Minnesota’s future.”

That investment took the form of appropriations to the DNR totaling $18 million in 2009, $18 million in 2010 and $5.4 million in 2011. These dollars went primarily to a forest conservation easement purchased from the UPM/Blandin Paper Co.

Specifically, Legacy dollars were used to protect 190,000 acres of working forest land in Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis, Cass, Beltrami, Koochiching and Clearwater counties called the Upper Mississippi Forest Legacy Project. They were also used to protect another 20,000 acres through several smaller projects.
 
Boe said the timing of the Legacy Amendment was particularly fortuitous. In 2007, he said, the DNR pulled together a high-level team of natural resource and forest industry experts to develop a strategic plan to meet Minnesota’s future recreation, economic and ecological needs. That team, which included hunting, county government, timber producer and off-highway vehicle interests, issued its report in 2008. That report recommended the formation of the Minnesota Forests for the Future program, which was established by the Legislature in 2008 and has served as an important tool for ensuring that legislatively appropriated Legacy dollars are invested wisely and with citizen support. In 2009 the purchase of public easements began.

What did Legacy dollars actually buy?

According to Boe, the state secured the protection of intact forests on a large scale. The easements and acquisitions connect existing public forests together to create several thousand square miles of contiguous, protected forest land that provides habitat for a range of species, including wolves, black bear, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and countless numbers of other animals and plants. The purchases also contain extensive water features, including 30 miles of state-designated trout streams, more than 100 miles of other streams and approximately 60,000 acres of intact wetlands.

The purchases also keep the lands open forever for outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking and snowmobiling. The Upper Mississippi Forest Legacy Project property contains more than 82 miles of grant-in-aid snowmobile trails as well as 32 miles of all-terrain vehicle trails. A segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail also runs through the property.

Boe said the economic benefits are substantive, too, because these lands remain a working forest that supplies timber for pulp, paper and forest products industry. The UPM/Blandin Paper Co. land supplies timber to17 manufacturing facilities in Minnesota and supports several thousand families directly or indirectly.

Finally, Boe said, Legacy dollars were able to attract $9.75 million in additional funding from nongovernment sources. These private donations came from the Blandin Foundation, Richard King Mellow Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Wal-Mart Acres for America Program and the Conservation Fund. 

The Forest Legacy project was largely funded by the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Thirty-three percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is distributed to the Outdoor Heritage Fund. These funds may be spent only to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game and wildlife. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was established by the Legislature to provide annual recommendations on how the Outdoor Heritage funds should be used.
For more information about the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy

                                                                                      -30-



DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       Oct. 30, 2013


DNR small grants program increasing, improving wildlife habitat
Legacy Amendment has enabled groups to deliver on their missions 
            
Since 1973, when the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society was founded, its members have proudly waved the habitat flag for a Minnesota species whose numbers have declined as grasslands have disappeared.

Yet today, thanks to Legacy Amendment funding, society members are doing more than raising awareness of the bird’s precarious plight. They are also aggressively improving habitat by using a small grants program managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Dozens of other conservation organizations are also using the conservation partners legacy (CPL) program to advance their habitat missions. CPL grants range from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $400,000. Applicants must provide a cash or in-kind match; applications are reviewed as part of a competitive process. Since 2009, $17 million in grants have been awarded for more than 200 different projects that have benefited 54,000 acres of habitat.

“The CPL program has been a wonderful program for our organization,” said Brian Winter, society president. “It has enabled us to enhance habitat at a rate far beyond what we were able to accomplish in the past. That’s good for prairie chickens. It’s also good for local economies because small business contractors do much of the work.”

The Prairie Chicken Society has received six grants totaling more than $1 million through the CPL program. The society has used this money largely to hire local contractors to cut brush, remove trees and plant prairie seed on state and federal wildlife lands. The society’s strategy is to collaborate with other partners to create habitat similar to that of settlement time when, according to lore, prairie chickens were as common as blackbirds. Much of this work is being done in Clay, Mahnomen and Norman counties.

“As their name implies, prairie chickens are creatures of open grasslands,” Winter said. “They don’t do well on land planted to row crops or land that contains too much brush, shrubs or trees that harbor predators, especially avian predators such as hawks and owls.”

Greg Hoch, DNR prairie habitat biologist, said the Prairie Chicken Society’s use of CPL dollars is valuable because it’s a way for smaller conservation organizations to get involved in habitat conservation. “The society has fewer than 200 members yet it is doing significant work that also benefits shorebirds, waterfowl and dozens of grassland songbird species,” he said. “Moreover, since it collaborates closely with state, federal and nonprofit wildlife managers, the dollars are targeted to the highest value areas.” 
 
During Minnesota settlement times, prairie chickens occurred in unbelievable numbers. During the spring nesting season settlers would comment that their wagon wheels were yellow from all the eggs they had rolled over. During the spring of 2013 only 1,400 male prairie chickens were counted in the core prairie chicken range. This index number, based on the number of male birds observed at booming grounds, suggests a total statewide population of 3,000 to 5,000. While comparatively few compared to the distant past, the population has been sufficient to support a limited hunting season since 2004.

“While the old days are gone forever, the Prairie Chicken Society and others are working to improve the habitat that remains so this species will always have a home in Minnesota,” Winter said.

In addition to the Prairie Chicken Society, many other species-related organizations receive funding through the CPL program. They include Minnesota Waterfowl Association, Pheasants Forever, Woodcock Minnesota, Ruffed Grouse Society and National Wild Turkey Federation. Grants also go to counties, cities and local conservation clubs such as the Nicollet Conservation Club. Twenty-nine grants totaling about $2 million have been issued in the metro area.
 
The CPL program is one of many programs funded by Legacy Amendment dollars that flow into the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Thirty-three percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is distributed to the Outdoor Heritage Fund. These funds may be spent only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was established by the Legislature to provide annual recommendations on how the Outdoor Heritage funds should be used.

For more information about the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

                                                                                -30-

 

DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         Oct. 30, 2013

Citizen conservationists leaving own legacy through Legacy funding
More trout stream access, quality habitat thanks to private landowners 
    
In 2008, when Minnesota voters added the Legacy Amendment to the state constitution, no one imagined their ballot would compel a beef and crop farmer in southeastern Minnesota to help improve the quality of the river that cuts through his land and open it to public fishing.

Yet that’s what happened.

In northeastern Minnesota, citizen conservationists are doing much the same along the streams that flow into Lake Superior.

“My goal was to reduce erosion into the North Branch of the Root River,” said Matt Hanson, who farms between Chatfield and Stewartville. “That’s happening thanks to the Legacy Amendment . . .  plus anglers have perpetual public access to about 2 miles of river.”

On the fifth anniversary of the Legacy Amendment vote, Hanson’s tale is but one of hundreds that exemplify how sales tax revenue in the Outdoor Heritage Fund is making Minnesota better. In his case, he is among many private landowners who enrolled in a trout stream conservation easement program managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Minnesota Legislature provided $2.5 million of Legacy funds to the DNR for this program in 2011. The allocation’s sole purpose is to purchase shoreline easements from willing sellers in the name of stream protection, habitat improvement and access to fishing. Citizen demand has temporarily outstripped the government’s funding.

“Many landowners are leaving a conservation legacy that would not have occurred without this funding,” said Jim Melander, DNR easement coordinator in southeastern Minnesota. “In fact, we’ve seen instances in which one landowner has signed-up for an easement, then so does the neighbor and so does the neighbor after that.”

Wildcat Creek near Brownsville in Houston County reflects that phenomenon. “What began as a 1,500-foot easement has led to more than a mile-long easement corridor thanks to multiple adjacent landowners,” Melander said. One of the easements protects bank springs that feed the creek and keep it cool so trout can survive. It’s also providing access to good trout fishing that never existed before.

Pat Rivers, DNR habitat acquisition leader, said the Legacy-funded easement program is not only making a difference but doing it efficiently. “It’s proactive and strategic,” Rivers said. “Since our fisheries managers have already identified priority watersheds and stream sections, we target dollars where they will deliver the best results.” He added that a steady and long-term stream of revenue is enabling managers to plan years ahead in ways that never existed before.

“When you look at a land ownership map, you’ll see Minnesota’s trout streams flow through a checker board of public and private ownerships,” Rivers said. “With steady funding you can look at that map, identify opportunities to create easement corridors and know that you’re being strategic and systematic.”    

Moreover, he said, the cash-for-easement formula is straightforward, which makes it simple for government and citizen alike. Landowners are compensated one time at $5 per stream foot plus the local land value rate for the acreage involved. “Since there’s little to negotiate there’s high transactional efficiency,” Rivers said.

About 12 miles of easements have been acquired in southeastern Minnesota and a similar amount in the northeast. Typically, easements are 66 feet from the center of the stream in both directions but some are wider or narrower. Easements prohibit the landowner from taking actions that would harm the stream. They also provide DNR crews with access to the water so they can assess fish populations, improve fish habitat, and slope, stabilize and seed eroding banks that contribute sediment to streams. In some instances, such as the Hanson property, small parking areas are created for anglers.

In northeastern Minnesota, the DNR has acquired easements on many Lake Superior trout streams, including the French, Sucker, and Cascade rivers. The easements provide angler access in addition to protecting the streams from development so the water stays cold as it flows downstream to Lake Superior. Priorities were given to parcels that connect other easements so anglers can fish, and wildlife can move uninterrupted along these riparian corridors. Frequently, initial easements are located where roads cross streams providing anglers easy access.

Gordon Hommes and wife Nancy MacGibbon of Two Harbors are among those in the Arrowhead who have put a conservation easement on their property. The Stewart River flows from county land onto their 10-acre property and exits onto county land.

“We have an obligation to future generations,” said Hommes, noting their easement is a way of preserving the watershed, sustaining brook trout, and creating a public fishing corridor that links two county parcels together. He added that in the face of climate change it makes sense to keep natural systems healthy through long-term protection. “The trout streams up here are typically fed by groundwater that flows from the bogs rather than underground springs. Anything we can do help keep the water cool, especially in summer when temperatures are high and water flow can be low, will help.”

Jamie Juenemann, a DNR fisheries technician working on corridor acquisitions in northeastern Minnesota, said the conservation easement program is working hand-in-glove with the Great Lakes Basin Fish Habitat Partnership.

“Together, we’ve identified high priority riparian areas and prioritized them,” Juenemann said. “And since protection is far more cost effective than restoration we’re going to get good long-term value from these investments."

The trout stream easement program is just one of many programs funded by Legacy dollars that flow into the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Thirty-three percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is distributed to the Outdoor Heritage Fund. These funds may be spent only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) was established by the legislature to provide annual recommendations on how the Outdoor Heritage funds should be used.

For more information about the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

                                                                             -30-

 

DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                          Oct. 30, 2013

Roving crews enhance habitat quality on existing public grasslands

More healthy prairies are springing up amidst southern Minnesota’s corn and soybean fields.

These aren’t new grasslands. They are part of the 689 wildlife management areas covering 154,798 acres in the 32-county area of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) southern region. Habitats vary from grassland and prairie to shallow lake, wetland and forested riparian areas.

“These public lands comprise only 1.19 percent of the total land in these counties but they represent some of the most diverse and important habitats remaining in this part of the state,” said Bob Welsh, DNR’s habitat program manager. “It is critical that they be managed to their full potential.”

A major portion of those areas are grasslands, which require frequent disturbance to remain healthy. But many needed help. Woody cover quickly invades undisturbed grasslands. And once trees take root, intervention is necessary.

That’s when Minnesota voters stepped in with sales tax dollars dedicated to conservation. Much like grasslands supplementing agriculture on a landscape of corn and soybeans, money provided by the 2008 passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment allowed the DNR to supplement its work by adding dedicated roving crews to enhance existing grassland habitat on DNR lands. Three roving crews, which have been phased in during the last three years, have made Minnesota better by tackling grassland enhancement work on 23,000 acres, nearly doubling the DNR’s capacity.

“Supplant versus supplement are very important words to the DNR and the Legacy Amendment,” Welsh said. “Area wildlife managers didn’t have sufficient staff to conduct grassland management work, especially prescribed burns and other woody brush removal projects at the preferred interval for optimal grassland health. The work of the roving crews is all new work that enhances and improves existing public lands.”

The DNR’s improvements come at a time when farmland and commodity prices are at a premium. Land set aside for habitat such as Conservation Reserve Program acres are falling under the bite of the plow. With no farm bill in place as yet, the future of such conservation programs is uncertain.

“It’s imperative that we conserve and enhance the public lands we have now to their greatest potential,” Welsh said. “The roving crews, working at the direction of area wildlife managers, are on the front line of making our prairie habitat the best that it can be.”

The southern and central region crews each aim to burn 3,500 acres per year and assist with other habitat work on an additional 1,000 acres. In the northwest, plans are to burn 7,000 acres each year and assist with other habitat work on 1,000 additional acres.

Legacy Amendment dollars also are being used to hire contractors to accomplish large blocks of grassland enhancement work including removing woody invasive species and prairie seeding that requires specialized equipment. Contracting with specialized contractors can be a cost-effective way to further supplement grassland improvement work.

Already, in the southern region alone, contractors have enhanced 6,500 acres of grassland habitat since Legacy dollars first became available in 2009. During that same time, contractors have seeded 820 acres of new grassland in southern Minnesota.

The DNR, along with other conservation partners, also has begun to target its work into core areas that are connected by wildlife friendly corridors. This targeted approach means that all prairie work done by the partners and supported by the Legacy Amendment dollars are supplementing each other.

At the same time, an approach called the Working Lands Initiative is being implemented to work with private landowners to create diversified agricultural practices by creating incentives for farmers to grow wildlife friendly grasses. This coordinated management, conducted as part the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan, is assuring that grasslands will continue to provide multiple benefits for years to come.

“It doesn’t have to be a choice between habitat and agriculture,” Welsh said. “Diverse, functional landscapes that put grasslands out there in the right places can provide quality habitat and support agriculture at the same time.”

Prairie restoration and enhancement is just one of many programs funded by Legacy Amendment dollars that flow into the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Thirty-three percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is distributed to the Outdoor Heritage Fund. These funds may be spent only to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game and wildlife. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was established by the Legislature to provide annual recommendations on how the Outdoor Heritage funds should be used.

For more information about the legacy amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

                                                                             -30-

 

DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       Oct. 30, 2013

Citizen conservationist plays key role in expansion of unique WMA

Gerald Lapitz never envisioned that his spur-of-the-moment decision 42 years ago to buy a place where family and friends could hunt would be the impetus for a public 806-acre upland and wetland habitat complex on the northern edge of Wadena County’s corn and potato fields.

Lapitz knew Yaeger Lake, a forested lake teeming with wild rice and surrounded by a floating bog, was special. He had spent nearly half his lifetime protecting and enjoying it.

Yet its future remained in doubt until Minnesota voters constitutionally earmarked a portion of sales tax dollars for conservation in 2008. Only then could Lapitz combine his desire to share nature with the expertise of willing partners such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) so generations of hunters, trappers and wildlife could enjoy Yaeger Lake for themselves.

“This project is an ideal fit for Outdoor Heritage Fund wetland and wild rice acquisition dollars that come to the DNR,” said Bob Welsh, DNR’s wildlife habitat program manager. “A core piece of quality publicly owned habitat is in place, there’s a willing seller of adjacent land who values conservation and there are partners ready to leverage their expertise and dollars for habitat improvement and restoration.”

The expansion of the Yaeger Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is just one example of how Minnesotans’ approval of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 is making Minnesota better. The DNR’s purchases of tracts owned by Lapitz and his family will more the double the size of this north-central Minnesota WMA and protect 1¼ mile of the wild rice lake’s shoreline. A newly installed water-control structure, designed and engineered by Ducks Unlimited, will shield wild rice and other aquatic plants from sudden fluctuations in water levels.

Lapitz, then a pilot, was living in St. Louis Park in 1971 when he started talking about deer hunting opportunities with a carpet installer from Menagha. What Lapitz heard interested him in the area. A few days later, the carpet installer came back with a lead on 130-acre farm for sale by a retiring Finnish couple.

He headed for the farm on Yaeger Lake the next day to look over the property. On his tour, Lapitz noticed lots of ducks and geese, apparently attracted by the wild rice growing in the lake and the shelter of a floating bog that surrounded it.

“Toward the end as we were walking back to the house, a buck jumped out,” Laptiz said. “I could tell the place was a pearl. I accepted the offer, went home and told my wife: ‘We bought a farm.’ ”

He hunted there with family and friends, eventually moving from Bloomington to Menagha in 1974.

“I had quit flying by then and I could run my business from up there,” he said. “I told my wife we’d only be moving up there for a short time. That short time ended up being 36 years.”

By 1980, Lapitz had purchased four more farms. His property now protected most of the north and west sides of Yaeger Lake. He remembers watching spawning northern pike swim up the drainage ditch to the lake from the nearby Crow Wing River and blue-winged teal whizz over his head as he sat in his deer stand on the southwest corner of Yaeger Lake.

Ten years later, the DNR completed its purchase of two tracts totaling 297 acres on the lake’s east side and created the Yaeger Lake WMA. The public access was moved from the lake’s south side to its east side and a 500-foot board walk was constructed to replace the dilapidated one, allowing people to safely cross the bog.

“There’s not a lot of lakes period in Wadena County and this lake is a jewel in the middle of farms,” said Rob Naplin, the DNR’s Park Rapids area wildlife supervisor. “This little complex is unique and really stands out when you look at it from the big picture.”

Prior to passage of the Legacy Amendment and the advent of Outdoor Heritage funding, acquiring a habitat complex of this size would not have been possible. Cost would have been prohibitive.

Yaeger Lake’s wild rice is vital to area wildlife. One acre of native wild rice can produce more than 500 pounds of seed. During fall migration, waterfowl, as well as resident wildlife, rely on these nutritious and abundant seeds.

Ongoing habitat work at Yaeger Lake includes reclaiming upland by seeding big bluestem prairie grass that creates ground nesting cover on the area’s very light soils. Once established, it also provides protection to regenerate jack pine, which is native to the area. Jack pine provides good thermal cover for the area’s abundant deer, grouse and growing population of wild turkey.

“When I bought the first land and saw what a pearl it was, I wanted to take care of it,” Lapitz said. “Lots of people wanted to buy pieces of the farm. I wanted to keep it all intact so future generations could enjoy it. The best way to do that was the DNR.”

Land acquisition is just one of many programs funded by Legacy Amendment dollars that flow into the Outdoor Heritage Fund. Thirty-three percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is distributed to the Outdoor Heritage Fund. These funds may be spent only to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game and wildlife. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was established by the Legislature to provide annual recommendations on how the Outdoor Heritage funds should be used.

For more information about the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy

                                                                                      -30-

 


This email was sent to editor@woodsnews.com on behalf of: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources · 500 Lafayette Road · Saint Paul, MN 55155 · 1-888-MINNDNR  

back to woodsnews