More than 400 acres of prairie conserved in northwestern Minnesota
Tue, Oct 26 2010 at 9:53 AM
By The Nature Conservancy
MINNEAPOLIS — The Nature Conservancy announced that it has acquired 470 acres of native prairie in Clay County in northwest Minnesota with funding from the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund.
This is the first property acquired through the Conservancy’s Minnesota Prairie Recovery Project, an innovative effort to conserve and manage the state’s remaining prairies.
Just like the vast majority of Conservancy preserves in Minnesota, the land will be open to the public for outdoor recreation including birding, hiking and hunting. This is consistent with requirements under the constitutional language establishing the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
The Conservancy will use prescribed burns and conservation grazing in order to maintain the diversity of native plants and wildlife found on the property, which is located in the township of Spring Prairie.
Prairie is one of the most endangered and least protected habitat types on Earth. Prior to European settlement, there were more than 18 million acres of prairie in Minnesota. Only about 220,000 acres or 1 percent remain today, according to the Minnesota County Biological Survey. About half of the state’s remaining prairies are unprotected and at risk of being plowed up or paved over.
"We have far too little prairie left in the state to lose any more," said Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota. "Grasslands help preserve our water quality and quantity, provide wildlife habitat and serve as wide-open places that we and future generations can enjoy."
The Conservancy identified the property as a top priority for conservation because of its relatively large size, excellent natural condition and proximity to two of Minnesota’s most significant prairie complexes.
Greater prairie chickens, a keystone prairie species, in Minnesota, have used the land as a booming ground for more than two decades and other rare grassland birds also have been seen on the property including Wilson’s phalarope, a state-threatened species.
Jim Landfield, who sold the land to the Conservancy, said that he and his family owned the property for nearly a century and used it largely for grazing cattle. He said that his faith and his upbringing led him to believe that it when it comes to land people are stewards — not owners.
"All this wealth and all that we have is lent to us," Landfield said. "We’re custodians of it. And that’s all. It’s just that simple. It’s a privilege to ‘own it,’ as we call it, but it’s really not ours. It never was and it never will be."
The property serves as a biological bridge or stepping stone for grassland birds, amphibians and other wildlife in the region including game species.
To the north, near the town of Felton is Felton Prairie Scientific and Natural Area. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recognizes the Felton Prairie complex as the most important collection of gravel prairies in the state.
And to the south near Glyndon is the Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area. Bluestem is considered one of the largest and highest quality northern tallgrass prairies in the United States.
"We preserved this strategically-important prairie site and we expect to conserve more as a result of our Minnesota Prairie Recovery Project," Ladner said. "But it’s important to note that we would not have been able to do so if not for the millions of Minnesotans who approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that created the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
"We also would like to thank the Lessard Sams-Outdoor Heritage Council, the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Pawlenty. All of them recognized the urgency of conserving Minnesota’s prairies and supported our efforts by approving this project."
In addition to conserving more prairies and connecting them together, another goal of the Minnesota Prairie Recovery Project is to better manage native prairies with prescribed burns and conservation grazing on public and private lands by increasing coordination and collaboration among landowners.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.