Accelerated Prairie Grassland Restoration and Enhancement Program on DNR Lands
With these funds we were able to restore, protect, and enhance 24,611 acres of native and restored grassland in Minnesota. Much of this work was done through the DNR Roving Crews, a new program funded with these dollars that has significantly increased the state's habitat management capabilities. In addition to these enhancement activities we were able to enroll acres in the DNR's Native Prairie Bank Easement Program as well as acquire acres for the SNA program.
We continue to use the Prairie Plan to guide our work in the western part of the state. While we don't limit ourselves to the core areas from the Plan, core areas and native sites usually rise to the top when we are developing short-term priority lists such as which units to try to burn each spring.
Although Minnesota DNR has the training and know-how to restore and enhance high quality prairie vegetation, past funding was insufficient to meet all needs. Often time, we'd just 'plant some grass'. These funds have given us the ability to use much higher diversity seed mixes in our restoration work. We aren't there yet, but we are getting much closer to restoring the full plant diversity to sites compared to what we were doing a few years ago. That said, there is still much to learn in the area of seed harvest, seeding method, and post-seeding management. In some cases we are buying local seed from vendors. In other cases, we are contracting with neighbors to mechanically harvest seed from established prairies. This is probably the most cost-effective way of collecting the volume of seed need to do larger restorations. We are also getting better at using different seed mixes within a site. A wetland margin should not have the same seed mix as a sandy hilltop.
Probably the most innovative and effective part of this request was the addition of a roving crew. These crews were 100% additive to the work that was being done in the past. They had the equipment, skills, and expertise, and were able to move around the entire region to do work that simply wasn't being done in the past. They were able to do projects by themselves, team up with local DNR staff, and occasionally work with staff from USFWS or TNC to do larger projects such a large Rx fires that cover multiple ownerships.
The other major part we can report in this first full length (5 year) project is our work with contractors. While DNR staff worked with some contractors in the past, with these funds we were able to scale up these projects. Through trial and error in some cases we have also figured out who the best contractors are for different types of projects. Habitat work was new to many contractors. It sometimes takes significant amounts of time to supervise contractors to make sure they are doing what we need done in the way we need it done. The more we work with these contractors, we learn their specialties and they become dialed in to what needs to be done and how to do it. They are also making improvements as they learn. This is making enhancement work more effective and efficient for both DNR staff and the contractors. Many of the contractors are pleased to have this extra work, especially when it comes at a time of the year which is normally their 'down' time. Contractors are telling us they are keeping busy, hiring more staff, and getting more work done as a direct result of OHF funds.